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   Chapter 2 LIFE AT THE OLD STONE HOUSE.

The Old Stone House By Constance Fenimore Woolson Characters: 41877

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


"Come, come, children," said Aunt Faith, as she went down the stairs, "do not waste so much time in talking or you will be late for prayers."

The talking consisted of a dialogue between Tom and Gem, carried on through the half-closed door of their respective rooms during the morning toilet, and the subject, as usual, was Pete Trone, Esq. "Who did Pete vote for?" began Gem.

"Pete voted the Republican ticket, like a sensible dog!" replied Tom, in a high key.

"He did not! I watched him at the polls. He is an out-and-out

Democrat!" returned Gem, at the top of her voice.

"No such thing!" shouted back her brother; "he attended a rat-ification meeting last night in the cellar, and made a speech from the text, 'aut rates aut bones.'"

"Oh, if you're going to quote Latin, I give up," said Gem, "and besides, there's the bell."

In a few moments the family assembled in the sitting-room,-Tom, Gem, Sibyl, and after some delay, Bessie; Hugh did not appear, and Aunt Faith, with an inward sigh, opened her Bible and read a chapter from the New Testament. Then they all met in prayer, and the mother-aunt's heart went up in earnest petition for help during the day, and a thanksgiving for the peaceful rest of the previous night; as she rose from her knee-, she kissed each one of her children with a fervent blessing, and the day was begun.

The sitting-room was large and sunny and the old-fashioned windows were set low down in the thick stone walls, so that a recess was formed in which a cushioned seat was fitted; Gem's favorite resort, with Estella Camilla Wales. A cabinet organ, a harp, and a violin, betrayed the musical tastes of the family, and an easel, with a picture in water-colors, as well as the books and papers on the table showed their varied occupations. Aunt Faith believed that music was a safeguard against danger. The love of harmony kept young people together around a piano, and filled their evenings with enjoyment; it was always a resource, and opened a field of interest and employment which increased the store of life's innocent pleasures. In addition to this negative virtue, Aunt Faith believed in the duty of taking part in the worship of the sanctuary; she believed that every voice, unless absolutely disqualified, should join in the praises of the great Creator, and some of her happiest moments, were those when her children gathered around the cabinet organ to sing the hymns she had taught them, or took their part in the congregational worship of song.

Sibyl played correctly both upon the piano and organ; Grace was already an apt scholar; Hugh sang, when in the mood, with a wonderful expression in his rich baritone; and Bessie, although negligent in practising, sometimes brought a world of melody out of her harp, charming all ears with her wild improvisations.

Tom owned the violin. The cousins united in the declaration that he had no musical ability, but Aunt Faith stood by him, and even encouraged his spasmodic attempts to find the tune. His favorite air was "Nelly Bly." On this he would progress satisfactorily until he came to "Hi," when he was sure to waver. "Hi," E flat; "Hi," E natural; "Hi," F natural; and finally, when all within hearing were driven nearly to frenzy, out would come the missing F sharp, and the tune go on triumphantly to its close.

The breakfast table at the old stone house was always a pleasant scene; Aunt Faith presided behind the coffee urn, and before the meal was over, the postman came with letters and papers, which caused another half hour of pleasant loitering. This morning Sibyl had her usual heap,-letters from various schoolmates, and one from Mrs. Leighton, her relative in Washington, which seemed to be full of interest. Aunt Faith also had several letters, and Bridget handed one to Bessie,-a large, yellow envelope, whose ill-formed address attracted general curiosity. "I say, Bess, who's your friend?" said Tom.

"Never mind," answered his cousin, with flushing cheeks, as she put the unopened letter into her pocket and went on hastily with her breakfast. Hugh, who had entered a moment before, glanced at Bessie, and then diverted the attention by a word-assault upon his sister. "What a mass of writing, Sibyl," he began, stretching out his hand; "I'll help you to read it. That rose-colored sheet will do; the one crossed over four times." But Sibyl quietly secured her correspondence, and went on with her reading. "Does she tell you what she wore at the last ball, dear? Was it blue, with rose ruffles, or pink with green puffles," continued Hugh. Sibyl smiled; her temper was never disturbed by her brother's banter. "If you could see Louisa May, you would be sure to admire her, Hugh, ruffles and all," she said, calmly.

"Undoubtedly; but as I cannot see her, ruffles and all, give me the nearest thing to it, a sight of that page,-

'Tis but a little criss-cross sheet,

But oh,-how fondly dear!

'Twill cheer my breakfast while I eat,

And keep the coffee clear,"

chanted Hugh, in a melo-dramatic tone.

"Aunt Faith," said Sibyl, as she rose to leave the table, "Mrs. Leighton has invited me to go to Saratoga next month, to stay four weeks."

"Saratoga!" exclaimed Bessie. "Well, you are always lucky, Sibyl. But why don't you do something instead of standing there so quietly?"

"What would you have me do?" said Sibyl, smiling.

"Why, dance,-sing,-hurrah,-anything to give vent to your excitement."

"But I am not excited, Bessie," answered Sibyl, quietly.

"I don't believe you'd be excited if the house was on fire," said Tom, looking up from his plate.

"No, probably not," said Aunt Faith; "and for that reason, Sibyl would be of more use in such an emergency than all the rest of you put together. Does Mrs. Leighton fix any time for the journey, dear?"

"Yes, aunt; about the fifteenth of July."

"Would you like to go?" continued Aunt Faith, somewhat anxiously.

"Of course she would!" exclaimed Bessie. "Four weeks at Saratoga.

Think of it!"

"Of course she would!" said Hugh. "Four weeks of puffs and ruffles!"

"Of course she would!" said Gem. "Four weeks of dancing!"

"Of course she would!" said Tom. "Ice cream every day!"

"I believe I will not decide immediately," said Sibyl, slowly; "I will think over the matter before I write." As her niece left the room, Aunt Faith's eyes followed her with a perplexed expression, but recalling her thoughts, she rang the bell, and then set about her daily task of washing the delicate breakfast-cups, and polishing the old-fashioned silver until it reflected her own face back again.

In the garret over the old stone house, a small room had been finished off as a "studio" for Bessie. It was but a rough little den with board walls and ceiling, but two south windows let in a flood of light, and the boards were covered with pictures in all stages of completion,-fragments of landscape, and portraits of all the members of the family circle, more or less caricatured according to Bessie's mood when she executed them. A strong patent-lock secured the door of this treasure-house, and seldom was any one admitted save Hugh. In vain had Tom bored holes in the walls, in vain had Gem pleaded pathetically through the key-hole, Bessie was inexorable and the door was closed. Chalked upon the outside of this fortress were some of Tom's sarcastic comments intended as a revenge for his exclusion,-

"Turn, stranger, turn, and from this sanctum rush,-

The fires of genius burn when Bessie wields the brush."

And this: "She won't let me in! Hinc illae lachrymae!" This legend was accompanied by a chalk picture of himself shedding large tear-drops into a tub.

This morning, however, the studio was not in a state of siege, as Tom and Gem were both engaged in a work of great importance in the garden. Seated near one of the windows was Bessie, her eyes full of tears, and her face the image of despair. A low knock at the door interrupted her reverie. "Is it you, Hugh?" she said, rising.

"Yes," replied her cousin, and in a minute he was admitted. "What is the matter, Bessie?" he said kindly. "I saw at breakfast that something was wrong. You will tell me, won't you?"

Bessie hesitated, and a flush rose in her dark face. "I suppose I must!" she answered, after a pause; "I always tell you everything Hugh, and I want your advice; but I don't know what you will think of me after you have read this letter."

"Never mind; give it to me, Brownie. You have always been my dear, little cousin, and it will take more than a letter to separate us," said Hugh, opening the envelope. The letter was as follows; "Miss B. Daril: I don't want to trouble you, but I must have that money. Bills is coming in every day. It belongs to me, as you know yourself, Miss, very well, and I've a right to every cent. If it don't come soon I shall have to send a lawyer for it, which I hate to do, Miss; and am yours respectful, J. Evins."

"What can this mean, Bessie?" asked Hugh, in astonishment.

"It means, last winter, at Featherton Hall, Hugh, I got into a wild set of girls there, and one of our amusements was sending out for suppers late in the evening; the servants would do anything for money, and they were always willing to go over to Evins, and get what we wanted for a small bribe. The bill was allowed to run on in my name, for, although it was understood that all the dormitory girls should share in the expense, it was more convenient to order in one name. Then the end of the term came, and there was so much confusion and hurry, that most of the girls forgot all about the bill, and went home without paying anything towards the suppers. I fully intended to give my share to Evins before I left, but the amount was so large I could not come near it," concluded Bessie, with two tears rolling down her cheeks.

"You have not told Aunt Faith, then," asked Hugh.

"No; I do not want to tell her, for it would make her feel badly, and besides, she would pay it herself, and I don't want her to do that, for she has already taken ever so much of her own little income to buy me new summer dresses in place of those I have torn and stained."

"How much do you owe this man?" said Hugh gravely.

"Two hundred and fifty dollars," said Bessie desperately.

"How could you contrive to run up such a bill in one winter?" exclaimed Hugh in astonishment.

"Why, you see there were a good many girls in the dormitory, and we always had plum-cake, eclairs, and French candy; and then I have no doubt but that the servants took their share," said Bessie, with a half sob.

"And why was your name selected for the bills?"

"I don't know, unless because I was,-the,-the,-"

"The ringleader?" suggested Hugh.

"I am afraid so," murmured Bessie, hiding her face.

"Have you got this man's bill?" said Hugh, after a pause.

"Ah! yes. He sent it to me weeks ago."

"Let me have it, please."

"Oh, Hugh! what are you going to do with it?"

"Pay it, of course."

"Pay it! How can you?"

"So long as it is paid, what do you care about it, Brownie?"

"But I do care, Hugh; and I shall not give it to you unless you tell me."

"Well then, listen, Miss Obstinate. You may not know that Sibyl and I have some money coming to us this month. We shall be quite rich. I shouldn't wonder if there were five hundred dollars in all. Quite a fortune, you see! And I shall take mine to pay the debts of my foolish little cousin, who must be a real sugar-dolly to have eaten so much candy," said Hugh, laughing.

"Oh, Hugh! you splendid, generous fellow," said Bessie, with the tears still shining in her eyes; "but I shall not let you do it."

"Yes you will, Bessie; you would do the same for me."

"That is true enough; but I hate to take your money, Hugh."

"You don't take it; 'J. Evins' takes it," said Hugh merrily. "Come, give me the bill, and say no more about it, or we shall quarrel." So it was settled, and there were two light hearts in the studio that bright June morning.

While Aunt Faith was busy with her house-keeping duties, she heard Sibyl's touch on the piano,-giving full value to every note, and exact time to every measure. Sibyl was an accurate musician, and several hours of each day were invariably devoted to piano practice. She never turned over a pile of sheet-music, trying now a little of this, and now a little of that; but, having made her selections, she played the piece entirely through, note for note, exactly as it was written. Most people liked to hear Miss Warrington play, for the performance was very complete. She sat gracefully at the piano, showed no nervous anxiety, interpreted the notes conscientiously, and finished the music to the very last octave. But Aunt Faith detected a want of expression in this studied mechanism; it seemed to her that Sibyl did not, in her heart, feel the spirit of the music which her fingers played. Coming in from the kitchen, this morning, after setting in motion the household wheels for the day, she again noticed this automatic execution in the strains of Mendelssohn's "Spring-Song," and it grated on her ear as she tended the hanging baskets on the piazza. Continuing her round from her plants to her birds and gold-fish, Aunt Faith kept listening to the monotonous sound of the piano. "I wonder if Sibyl has a heart?" she thought; "sometimes I am tempted to think she has none. How can she practise so steadily when she has so much to decide? This visit to Saratoga will mean more than it looks. The decision will be between religion and the world. If she deliberately makes up her mind to go, it will show me that Mr. Leslie's influence has not been strong enough to subdue her worldliness and secret ambition. Poor child! she is like her mother. And yet, Mabel Fitzhugh became an earnest Christian before she died. God grant that her daughter may grow in grace also. Hugh, now, is all Warrington; he is like his father, with all his father's faults and all his father's generosity. Dear James! my favorite brother!" and Aunt Faith wiped away a tear, as she crossed the hall and entered the parlor where Sibyl was practising.

The parlor in the old stone house was the counterpart of the sitting-room, large and square, with two north and two south windows,-for the main body of the house contained only the length of the apartments finished by a north and south piazza, while the other rooms ran off on either side in wings and projections, as though the designer had tried to cover as much ground as possible. The parlor was plainly furnished as regards cost, for there was no superb set of furniture, no tall mirror, no velvet carpet or lace curtains. Easy-chairs of various patterns were numerous, the carpet was small figured, in neutral tints, and the plain, gray walls brought out the beauties of the two fine pictures which lighted up the whole room with their vivid idealism; the piano was a perfect instrument, filling a corner of its own, and opposite to it was an open book-case filled with pleasant-looking, well-used books, well worn too, like old friends, so much better than new ones. The crimson lounge seemed to invite the visitor with its generous breadth and softness, and the white muslin curtains were in perfect keeping with the old-fashioned windows, through which came the perfume of the old-fashioned flowers in the garden.

"Sibyl," said Aunt Faith, as her niece paused in her practising; "shall we talk over your plans for the summer now?"

"Yes, if you please, aunt; I can finish my practising another time," said Sibyl, carefully replacing the sheet-music in its portfolio.

"Mrs. Leighton is very kind to invite you, Sibyl; such a summer excursion will be expensive."

"Yes, Aunt, I suppose so; but cousin Jane knows that the addition of a young lady will add to the attractions of her party."

"Do you really wish to go, dear?"

"I have been thinking it over, Aunt Faith. While I was practising I looked at the subject in all lights, and I have almost decided to go; there is nothing to keep me here, and no doubt the society at Saratoga and Newport would be of great advantage to me."

"In what way, Sibyl?"

"In giving me the acquaintance of persons and families who will be desirable friends for a lifetime. I am not rich, as you know, Aunt Faith, and I do not wish to be a burden upon Hugh. I consider it prudent to look to the future, and see life as it really is; I do not believe in fancies,-I must have something sure."

Aunt Faith looked at the speaker in silence for a moment. Then she said, "There is nothing sure in this life, Sibyl, but our trust in God."

"I know that, Aunt; I hope you do not think I have been remiss in my religious duties?"

"No, child no," replied Aunt Faith with a half-sigh; "but are you sure there is nothing in Westerton that interests you more than the fashionable life at Saratoga!"

"Nothing, Aunt; except affection for all of you, of course." Sibyl's voice did not waver, neither did the shade of color in her oval cheek deepen; Aunt Faith, who was watching her closely, said no more on that subject, but turned the discussion towards the arrangements for the journey. "You will need some additions to your wardrobe, I suppose, my dear?"

"Yes, Aunt; I think I shall take that money that is coming to me this month for the purpose. I do not care for many dresses, but they must be perfect of their kind, and I think I shall purchase that antique set of pearls at Carton's,"

"But they are very costly, Sibyl."

"Of course they are. I should not wish them if they were not rare. Pearls become me, and the antique setting will set me off far better than anything modern; a white organdie, long and flowing, with the pearls, would be just my style," said Sibyl in a musing voice, as though she saw herself so arrayed. As she spoke, a vision rose before Aunt Faith's eyes: Sibyl at Saratoga, her classical head and hair adorned with the antique circlet, rising in simple beauty from the soft, white draperies. "She will look like a Greek statue," thought the elder lady; "after all, how beautiful she is!"

The discussion went on, arranging the details of the various toilets, a committee of ways and means highly important in Sibyl's eyes.

"At any rate, you need not begin immediately, Sibyl," said Aunt Faith; "if you only wish two or three dresses; and those are to be so simple, a week will be time enough to devote to them. You can have a full month of quiet here with all of us, dear; and, after all, something may happen to change your plans."

"I think not, Aunt Faith. Are you going? Then I may as well finish my practising;" and for the next hour the Spring-song filled the parlor with its oft-repeated harmony.

Down in the back garden, Tom and Gem were deeply engaged in the construction of an underground shanty. The grassy terrace behind the north piazza sloped down in a gentle declivity towards the vegetable garden, and at the base of this small hill the two sappers and miners were at work, their operations being marked by a convenient growth of currant-bushes at the top. The three dogs watched the proceedings with great interest. Turk, always thoughtful of his own comfort, had stretched himself out near by under the shadow of the bushes, and Pete Trone, in the excess of his zeal, had burrowed so far into the hill that nothing was to be seen but his tail and hind legs; Grip, however, persisted in tearing around the garden in wild circles, barking furiously every time he passed his master as if to encourage him in his labors. "This will never do!" said Tom, pausing and wiping his forehead; "Grip will spoil everything with his ridiculous barking, and the whole neighborhood will come to see what is the matter. Here, Grip! Here, this minute! Very well, sir! ver-y well! ex-treme-ly well! You'd better come, sir! You'd bet-ter,-oh! you're coming, are you? There! get into that tub, sir, and don't let me see you so much as wag your tail without permission!"

So Grip sat mournfully in his tub, and watched the work in silence, resting his nose on the side, and blinking his eyes at every fresh shovel-full of earth. The sun shone out warmly, and the laborers felt the perspiration on their heated faces. Gem was the first to drop her shovel. "Oh, Tom!" she said, wiping her forehead, "my hands are all blistered!"

"What of that?" said Tom, shovelling steadily; "the honest hand of toil, you know." But Gem didn't know, and betook herself to the shade of the bushes for a rest. "There's Dick Nelson coming up through the pasture, Tom," she said, after a few moments.

"Is it? oh, how jolly! Now we'll have a shanty that will beat the town. I'll get Dick to bring all the B. B.'s to help."

So saying, Tom ran down to meet his friend, and the two, after some conversation, darted away to the right and the left, returning in ab

out fifteen minutes with the "Band of Brothers," as they called themselves, a number of boys who lived in the vicinity, and hunted in a herd, as the neighbors said, for they were seldom seen apart.

"The B. B.'s have come, Gem! the B. B's have come!" cried Tom, as they approached; "now you'll see a shanty fit for a king! Just run in and get all the shovels you can find, will you?"

Gem obeyed, and having confiscated those in use in the kitchen, she went up to the garret to find the fire utensils belonging to the other rooms, stored away there for the summer. Collecting a number, she started to return, but, loaded as she was, this was no easy matter. First one shovel fell, then another, and finally to save the whole load from going, she sat down on the stairs and considered the situation.

Hugh and Bessie were still in the studio; for, her troubles over, Bessie's good spirits had returned, and she had persuaded Hugh to give her a sitting in order that she might satisfy a long-cherished desire to paint his portrait. "But what can you make out of my stupid phiz?" Hugh had said, laughing.

"I can make Fitz Hugh Warrington out of it; fair and golden, Saxon and strong; ruddy and stalwart; lithe and long. Now sit still, Hugh, and I will do my best. If you had black eyes I would not paint you; black eyes are snaky; that's the reason I don't like Gideon Fish."

"But he likes you, Queen Bess."

"No, he only likes Aunt Faith's cake. If he had to choose between me and pie, I am afraid I should not have a chance. As for jelly, he fairly gloats over it. Do you know, Hugh, I shall feel so sorry for his wife when he marries; how tired she will be of him!"

"Oh, no, she won't," said Hugh; "she will think he is perfect, and cook for him all her life without ever once finding out what a humbug he is."

"Well, perhaps it is better so. Deception is sometimes a blessing," said Bessie. At this point a singular noise was heard outside the door; then another, and still another.

"What can that be?" said Hugh, opening the door; "Gem, what are you doing?"

"Oh, Hugh, don't make any noise," said Gem, in a whisper.

"I am not making any noise. It is you with your shovels. What are you doing with them?" asked Hugh, laughing.

"Oh, Hugh, please don't tell! but Tom and the B. B.'s are making an underground shanty, and they sent me for all the shovels, and I got all I could find, and now I can't carry them," said Gem dolefully.

"An underground shanty! What in the world are you going to do with it, and who are the B. B.'s?" asked Hugh, relieving his little cousin from her load, and carrying it down the stairs for her.

"Live in it, like Robinson Crusoe, you know, and roast potatoes and everything."

"It will be rather hot, won't it, Pussy?"

"Oh, no!" said Gem decisively; "Tom says it will be delightfully cool. We're going to have a stove, and chairs, and a table, and candles, and things to eat; and then the dogs can stay there too. Grip has never had a regular house, you know, and Tom says it isn't respectable for him to be loose round the garden at night any more, and so he's going to let him live in the shanty."

"Happy Grip!" said Hugh, as he delivered the shovels at the foot of the stairs; "but who are the B. B.'s, Gem?"

"Oh! the Band of Brothers,-a secret society. Don't let them see you, please, Hugh, for I promised not to tell, and I'm almost afraid of them, they've got such a dreadful motto."

"What is it, Pussy?"

"Ruin, Riot, and Revenge," said Gem in a solemn whisper.

"Well done, B. B.'s!" said Hugh laughing; "truly, a terrific motto!

There, take your shovels and run, little one. I won't betray you."

So the shovels disappeared, and Hugh, returning to the studio, related the adventure to Bessie with a hearty laugh. "Do you know anything about the B. B.'s?" he asked, as Bessie resumed her work.

"Oh, yes!" she replied; "I know them to my cost. They are ruin to water-melons, riot on peaches, and revenge to anyone who interferes with them. A few weeks ago, they frightened Mrs. Lane and her sister almost into a fainting-fit. You know that high board fence below here? Well! one evening the B. B.'s happened to find out that they were over at Mrs. Reed's, so they waited until the ladies came along, and then they laid themselves down on the ground close behind the fence, and putting their mouths against the boards, groaned out, one by one, 'seven years ago I was murdered and buried under this fence, oh!-oh!-oh!'-each boy keeping up the groan until the next one took it up as the ladies hurried by."

Hugh laughed; "What did they do it for?" he asked.

"Oh, I believe Mrs. Lane had ordered them out of her garden, one day, when they were playing there with her Johnny."

"I am afraid if Aunt Faith knew they were undermining her terrace, she would order them out of her's, too."

"I think not, Hugh. Aunt Faith likes boys, and she never seems to see their pranks."

"Dear Aunt Faith! she is certainly the kindest aunt a graceless nephew ever had," said Hugh warmly.

"That she is; I love her dearly, and I do mean to try not to vex her any more," said Bessie earnestly.

"But, the horseback-riding, Bessie!"

"But, the horseback-riding, Hugh!"

The two offenders looked at each other a moment in silence, and then burst into a peal of laughter.

"It's of no use," said Bessie; "we can't be good."

"Do you think Aunt Faith would be very much shocked if we should tell her?" asked Hugh.

"Of course she would. She does not like to see a lady on horseback, because her cousin was killed by a fall from a horse, you know. Still, she might not forbid my going, provided I would ride quietly on a country road; but that is just what I do not want to do. The whole excitement is in the racing, you know."

"Well, I suppose it would be better not to tell her, then," said Hugh slowly.

Dinner-time came, and the family assembled in the dining-room, Sibyl attired in a fresh muslin, and Bessie and Hugh somewhat dusty after their morning in the studio. Tom and Gem came in with flushed faces;-the B. B.'s were to return after dinner and finish the excavation, and the afternoon was to be full of glory.

"Sibyl," said Aunt Faith, when the others had left the dining-room, "would you like to go with me to see Margaret Brown, about four o'clock? You have been there before, I believe?"

"No, Aunt Faith, I have never been there."

"I thought Mr. Leslie said so."

"He did, but he was mistaken," replied Sibyl calmly. "I will go with you, however, this afternoon, aunt, if you wish."

"Do not go merely to oblige me, my dear. I thought you seemed to be interested in Mr. Leslie's description. For my part, I have thought of it ever since."

A slight flush rose in Sibyl's fair face. "I was much interested, aunt," she said quickly, "and I shall be glad to go with you, if you will allow it."

So Aunt Faith went upstairs for her afternoon siesta, and soon fell asleep on the cool chintz lounge, in her shaded room, where the old-fashioned furniture, high bedstead, spindle-legged chairs, and antique toilet-table, had remained unchanged from her youth, when the oval mirror reflected back a merry, rosy girl-face, instead of the pale, silver-haired woman.

But Sibyl did not sleep. She went into the still parlor, and seated herself by the window with a book; but her thoughts were busy, and only her eyes were fixed upon the page, as her mind wandered far away from the author's subject. "Shall I or shall I not go to Saratoga?" she mused. "This is more than the mere question of a summer journey; I know that very well. It is, I feel it, a turning-point in my life. Can I deliberately give up my ambition, my hopes, all my prospects for a bright and prosperous future? Is it, after all, wrong to like wealth and ease? Is it wrong to like elegance and refinement, the society of cultivated people, and the charming surroundings which only money can bring? I have an innate horror of misery,-an inability to endure the want of all that is beautiful in life. I think I could be a very good woman in an elegant city home, with all my little wishes gratified, and nothing to offend my taste. But I fear, yes, I know, I should be a miserable, if not a wicked woman, in a poor home, with nothing but rasping, wearing poverty, day after day. Why, the very smell and steam of the wet flannels coming from the kitchens of small houses where I have happened to be on washing-days, has made me uncomfortable for hours. I know I am not heroic, but I am afraid I was not intended for a heroine. I know myself and all my faults thoroughly. I am sure I should be generous with my money if I was rich,-kind to the poor, and regular in the discharge of all my religious duties. People would love me; I should make them happy, and be happy myself. Now the question is, am I right in thinking such a life far better for me, constituted as I am, than any other?

"Let me look at the opposite side, now. It is not likely I should ever be obliged to work at severe manual labor; but the annoyances and privations of a limited income seem to me almost worse than that. I think I would rather be a washerwoman, provided I could acquire the strength, than the wife of a struggling man who has all the refined tastes and sensitive nerves of a gentleman, without a gentleman's income. I should see him growing more and more careless, more and more haggard, day after day; I should see myself growing old, ugly, ill-tempered, and sick, hour after hour. I have not the moral force of mind, or the physical force of body, to make a cold, half-furnished house seem a haven of rest, a piece of corned-beef and potatoes continued indefinitely through the week seem a delicious repast, or an old-fashioned cloak and dowdy bonnet seem like my present pretty fresh attire. Well! this being the case, I am afraid I am but a worldly woman, and, as such, would I not wrong a poor man if I consented to be his wife? Would he not be sure to repent when it was too late,-when he had discovered the selfishness and love of luxury which are in me? I know he would. I will not put myself in such a position. I will do the best I can; but, as I cannot make myself over, I will select the life which is best suited to me."

Here Sibyl sighed, and tried to bring her mind back upon her book. In vain; her thoughts would wander. "There is poor Aunt Faith. I can easily see how anxious she is about me, and how her heart aches over my worldliness. I do love her dearly; all the good in me I owe to her, and if I ever do anything right, it will be the result of her loving guidance. Sometimes I am tempted to tell her all that is in my heart,-all I have been thinking this afternoon, for instance. I believe I will write it down now, and give it to her. She will understand me better, then; and, if I request it, she will never allude to the paper in words. Yes, I think I will do it." So Sibyl took a sheet of paper from the drawer, and, in her clear handwriting, wrote out her thoughts of the afternoon, adding a request that the subject might not be brought into discussion, and also, that the paper should be destroyed. "I will not take any false steps," she thought; "I will be true to my determination, and therefore I will not go to see Margaret Brown this afternoon; there would be a double motive in the visit, I fear." Rising, she went slowly up the stairs to Aunt Faith's room; the door was partly open, and she could hear the rustle of book-leaves. "Aunt Faith!" she said, standing outside in the hall, "I have decided not to go with you this afternoon, if you will excuse me. I shall go over to the cottage to see Rose Saxon. And I have written down some ideas of mine on this paper; perhaps you may be interested in reading them."

She did not wait for a reply, but laying down the folded paper on a chair by the door, she went down the stairs, took her little straw round hat, and walked over to the cottage, the residence of Mrs. Marr, whose niece, Rose Saxon, had been one of her schoolmates. Aunt Faith laid aside her book and read Sibyl's paper several times over; then she arranged her dress, and went alone to see Margaret Brown, leaving an order for some work, and inviting the children to come and play in the large garden at the old stone house. Her voice was gentle, her words cordial, and Margaret felt cheered by the visit; but the visitor's heart was sad, and when, on her way home, she met Mr. Leslie, she merely bowed, without stopping as usual to exchange a pleasant greeting. But the young clergyman joined his old friend in spite of her constrained manner, and began talking: "You have been to see Margaret Brown, I presume, Mrs. Sheldon. I am very glad. I am sure she will interest you, and she has so few friends to help her, that I feel anxious to gain for her your good will. Miss Warrington has also visited her, I believe?"

"No, Mr. Leslie," replied Aunt Faith; "Sibyl has never been to see

Margaret, and she did not care to accompany me this afternoon."

A shade came over the young clergyman's face, but he made no comment.

"Westerton is very dull for Sibyl; she is better fitted for the gay society of the busy city," pursued Aunt Faith, determined at any cost to prevent Mr. Leslie from looking at her niece with blinded eyes.

"Miss Warrington is fitted for any life," replied the young clergyman gravely; "if you please, Mrs. Sheldon, I will accompany you home. I would like to see Miss Warrington."

Poor Aunt Faith! what could she do but murmur an invitation. As they reached the old stone house and Sibyl greeted them with a bright smile, poor Aunt Faith felt very much like the spider in the old song of the spider and the fly.

The tea-table was inviting, and the circle around it as pleasant as six handsome young faces and one handsome old face could make it,-faces handsome with vivacity and good nature as well as artistic beauty. Mr. Leslie was there, and being a general favorite, the conversation was full of life and interest.

"He's just splendid!" said Gem to Tom after the meal was over, "and I wish we dared to show him the shanty. He'd like it ever so much; I've heard him tell such funny stories about what he did when he was a boy."

"But he would not like our keeping it all from Aunt Faith."

"That's true. Well, I suppose, then, we'd better not tell him now.

But, oh! Tom, how I wish I could stay up with the B. B.'s to-night."

"No; girls must always stay in nights. I've always thought it a great pity you could not be a boy, Gem. But it can't be helped now. Remember, if I fling a stone up, it will mean that we want something, and you must be sure to get it."

Aunt Faith spent the evening in the sitting-room busily engaged in her fancy work. On the piazza, Sibyl and Mr. Leslie talked in low tones, and now and then she caught a word or two which seemed to indicate the serious character of the conversation. "I fear I am doing wrong to allow it," she thought; "there is no doubt in my mind as to John Leslie's liking for Sibyl, and the child is so worldly! Still, what can I do? The way in which he put aside my little endeavors this afternoon and walked boldly into the very danger! It certainly looks as though he was not afraid of anything, and, to tell the truth, I do not think he is. I shall have to let him take care of himself; he looks fully able to do it," and Aunt Faith smiled at her own discomfiture, as a vision of the clergyman's resolute face and broad shoulders rose before her eyes.

Later in the evening Bessie came in and slipped into the sofa corner by her aunt's side.

"How flushed you are," said Aunt Faith, stroking the young girl's cheek; "do you feel quite well, dear?"

"Oh yes, auntie," said Bessie with downcast eyes; "the evening is warm, you know."

"Do you find it warm also?" asked Aunt Faith, as Hugh entered, fanning himself with his straw hat. Hugh, who had just taken the horses down through the pasture, murmured some inarticulate reply and crossed the hall into the parlor. "Let us have some music, Bessie," he called out as he opened the piano. Then as his cousin joined him, he said in a low tone, "I cannot bear this deception, Bessie. It makes me feel like a puppy."

"Oh Hugh, you are not going to tell, and spoil all my fun?"

"You are a second Eve with her apple, Brownie."

"I am not Eve, and I don't like apples," said Bessie indignantly. "Don't spoil my fun, now, Hugh. The summer will soon be over, and you will be gone. Then I shall be oh!-so good."

"When you have no longer a chance to be naughty," said Hugh, laughing.

At eleven o'clock the lights were all extinguished in the old stone house, and every one was soon asleep. After awhile a sharp rap on the closed blinds awoke Gem; at first she was startled, but instantly remembering the night-watch in the underground shanty, she stole to the window and peeped out. There stood Tom! "We want something to eat," he said in a loud whisper; "the B. B.'s are awful hungry. Come down and open the back door."

"Oh, Tom, I don't dare to do it!" said Gem, trembling.

"Don't be a baby, Gem! Come down, or I'll tell, the B. B.'s you're afraid of the dark."

This taunt aroused Gem's failing courage, she stole down the stairs and slipped back the bolt, regaining her room with the speed of a little pussy cat. She heard nothing more for some time, and was almost asleep when another tap on the blinds aroused her.

"We want more candles," whispered Tom; "I can't find 'em. Of course you know where they are. Hurry up!"

"Oh, Tom! must I come down again?" pleaded Gem.

"Of course you must! hurry up!"

So Gem got the candles and crept back to her bed with a lessening respect for the delights of the underground shanty. In a few moments another tap was heard. "Oh, Tom! what is it now?"

"I want my fiddle; the B. B.'s are awful sleepy, and they say they'll all go home if I don't play for them."

"Oh, Tom, somebody will hear you!"

"Not under the ground, you silly! Come down and get the fiddle; I can't go in the sitting-room with my boots on."

So the violin was handed out, and poor Gem at last fell asleep, with a vague intention of being a good girl, and giving up the society of Tom and the B. B.'s forever.

About half past twelve Aunt Faith awoke; "I certainly hear music!" she thought. Opening the blinds she heard the faint strains of "Nelly Bly," with the well known "Hi," E flat; "Hi," E natural; "Hi," F natural, and at the same time saw a light proceeding mysteriously from the ground. Hastily dressing herself, she ran over to Tom's room; it was empty. Much disturbed, she knocked at Hugh's door; "Hugh! Hugh!" she called; "something is wrong. Please get up."

"What is it, Aunt Faith?" said a sleepy voice.

"Get up at once! Tom is gone; there is music somewhere, and the strangest light coming out of the ground in the back garden."

"The B. B.'s, I'll be bound," said Hugh with a laugh, as he threw on his clothes. "Don't be frightened, Aunt Faith; it's Ruin, Riot and Revenge."

"Dreadful!" murmured Aunt Faith outside the door.

By this time the whole household was awake, and a group of persons stole out of the back door and went down the garden walk. Finding a barricade of boards at the base of the hill, they opened it, and discovered a little den in the earth containing one chair, a table, the three dogs, and Tom; a candle stuck in a bottle gave light to the scene, and the table was covered with the remains of a feast, cake and pies having evidently once filled the empty dishes. Tom was playing dismally upon his violin, and the three dogs sat mournfully at his feet.

"Thomas, what does this mean?" said Aunt Faith severely.

Tom looked up and saw the extent of his audience. "It's just my underground shanty, Aunt Faith," he said dejectedly; "I've worked like a slave over it all day, and the B. B.'s agreed to sit up here all night and have lots of fun, so I climbed out of the back window and came down. But first they wanted things to eat, and I had to get 'em; and then, when they'd eaten up everything, they said if I didn't play they'd go home, so I had to get my fiddle. And I only knew one tune, and they got tired of it after a while, and a few minutes ago they all skedaddled and left me here alone with the dogs. However, I wasn't going to give it up, so I was just playing to amuse myself a little before daylight."

"Before daylight?" said Aunt Faith; "what time do you think it is now?"

"I suppose about four or five," said Tom.

"It isn't one yet," said Hugh laughing. "Come in and go to bed, you young brigand."

At first Tom objected, but the dogs had already taken advantage of the open door to depart, the candle burned dimly, and the air was damp. He yielded, and the underground shanty was left to its earthy seclusion.

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