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Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
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She hath put on
Courage, and faith, and generous constancy,
Ev'n as a breastplate.
Mrs. Hemans.

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Well, I believe I have told you all that is of any consequence,
all that is worth telling. It was a fine affair! I would
not but have been there for the world.” Thus exclaimed the
unabashed Louise, who, adopting her usual tactics, and ignoring
any unsisterly conduct on her own part, had, with many affected
airs and a more than ordinary toss of the head, detailed for
Mabel's benefit such particulars of the wedding reception as
seemed to her most noteworthy. As these consisted chiefly of
the compliments paid to herself on the occasion, the attention she
had received from various quarters, the admiration and envy
her new mantilla had excited, and the striking contrast between
the awkward arrangement of Fan Brodhead's veil and the taste
displayed on the event of her own bridal, it may well be supposed
that Mabel's interest in the subject was soon exhausted,
especially as Louise declared that she had a thousand messages
of regret from her sister's numerous friends, but could not
remember a word of them, or say exactly who inquired for her,
and who did not. “But, mercy! I did not come here to talk
about the wedding,” exclaimed Louise. “Tired as I am, and
with so much to think about, only conceive of my being plagued
to death as usual by that provoking Lydia! To think of her
declaring now, at this last minute, that she had never had any
idea of staying in my service after last month was out, and that
she supposed I had got some one else to go with me on the

“Hadn't she given you any notice?” asked Mabel, in surprise.

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“Oh, yes; she says she has told me several times that she
could not go so far away, and I dare say she has, but I never
believed her; servants are always threatening in that sort of
way, just to show their consequence. She says her sister is
failing very fast; her mother needs her, and so on.”

“It is very true,” replied Mabel, gravely. “Rose can not
live long; I do not wonder Lydia does not like to leave her.”

“Rose!” exclaimed Louise, sneeringly. “You speak her
name with as much familiarity as if she were an intimate acquaintance!
I heard about your taking her out to drive yesterday;
my children are full of it. I can't conceive of your
doing anything so ridiculous.”

Mabel made no reply; she had learned by experience that
it was vain to argue with Louise.

“That child,” added the latter, in a provoked tone, as if Rose
had intentionally done her a serious injury, “has been dying
ever since Lydia lived with me; if she is really going to die
now, Lydia can't keep her alive; and what difference does it
make whether she's here, or in some other part of the country?”

Mabel looked deeply shocked at her sister's heartlessness,
and answered, “A very great difference I should think, Louise.”

The temper of Mrs. Leroy, however, becoming more excited,
as she saw how little her sister sympathized in her view of the
matter, now burst forth with redoubled vehemence; she did
not believe in the child's illness; it was all counterfeited;
Lydia was the most ungrateful of mortals, and Mabel was silly
enough to be the dupe of this miserable family's impositions.
She could not conceive of her being so indifferent to the welfare
of the boys, of whom she professed to be so fond; poor children,
they were accustomed to Lydia; how would they like being
away from home, and travelling too, under the care of a perfect

This appeal was irresistible to Mabel, and, with prompt
generosity, she excalaimed, without a moment's hesitation, “take
Cecilia, Louise. I can spare her. I can do without any maid;
she is a good girl, and is used to the boys.”

Mrs. Leroy walked to the window, to hide her satisfaction at

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this proposition. It was the point at which all her diplomacy
had been directed, for, however Cecilia might supply Lydia's
place to the children, her skill as lady's maid and hair-dresser
was such that her services had long been coveted by the mother.

Unwilling, however, to acknowledge her obligation to her
sister, she continued to make an excessive show of annoyance;
declared Cecilia to be wanting in every quality requisite in one
who was to fill Lydia's place, and finally ended by saying, in a
condescending tone, that if the latter persisted in leaving, and
she could not do better, which it was not very probable she
could at this late hour, she would try and be satisfied with
Cecilia, and should be glad at all events to have her come to
the hotel for a while, and assist in packing her trunks.

The consequence was, that in less than an hour after Mrs.
Leroy reached home, a messenger was dispatched for Cecilia,
requesting that she should come to the hotel without delay, and
Mabel, thus unceremoniously deprived of her skilful attendant,
was left to complete those personal preparations for travelling
which had unexpectedly devolved upon her.

It was night, and she was alone in her quiet room. Her
mind was troubled; and inwardly congratulating herself on the
absence of her maid, whose presence would have been a restraint,
she was, with alternate listlessness and feverish energy,
engaged in packing for the morrow's journey. Various articles
of her wardrobe were spread out upon the bed. She folded a
rich dress with care, as if to place it in the trunk, then, forgetful
of her purpose, laid it away on the closet shelf. Now she
hastily opened and shut her drawers and caskets, then withdrew
to the window, and leaning her head on her hand looked out
into the moonlight. The tempter, though absent from her side,
was present to her thoughts; but ever as her heart dwelt fondly
on his last persuasive words, there came between her and his
treacherous image, the form of her better angel, the sick and
saintly Rose, whose mild, searching eyes seemed to follow
her with a reproachful glance, whose little hand seemed lifted
in timid yet fervent appeal, and whose low, childlike voice was
continually whispering in her ear the simple words, “Miss

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Mabel, have you a brother, and do you love him as I love

Her heart told her that she had not loved him thus, and she
felt humbled at the contrast between her own shrinking, doubtful
spirit, and the child's unhesitating generosity. She pressed
her throbbing head against the cool glass, and while she meditated
on the pleasures of the morrow, strove to shut out every
thought that preyed upon her peace. But conscience was
aroused and would not be thus easily silenced, and the necessary
preparation for the journey was forgotten, while her heart
struggled with contending emotions.

Just then quick steps were heard in the street below, and, as
they drew nearer, voices also were distinguishable. Mabel
held her breath to listen, for she recognized the familiar tones
of Harry, who paused at the street door, and seemed to be bidding
adieu to one of his companions.

“Family all going out of town! House going to be shut up.
Ah!” exclaimed the voice of a strange individual, in reply to
a remark from Harry, the words of which had escaped her ear.
“And you, Vaughan, what is to become of you? Where are
you bound for the summer? Come, I'll play your cicerone,”
continued the person, in a coarse and yet insinuating tone, “I'll
back you up for any place you'll name.”

“You may well say that,” replied Harry, in a tone of bitter
irony; “I'm going to the devil; as you very well know, but
I'll warrant you'll keep me company;” and the unhappy
youth accompanied this desperate acknowledgment with a hollow
and joyless laugh, which was loudly and boisterously echoed
by his companion, who, as Harry abruptly entered the house,
proceeded down the street.

Bitter as were Harry's words of despairing self-abandonment,
his mocking laugh was more bitter still. It thrilled
through every fibre of Mabel's frame. It seemed to ring out
the knell of hope, and fix a seal to his impending doom. And
yet it was so indescribably sad, so heart-rending in its mournful
significance,—it told such a story of vain struggles,

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useless regrets, and final desperation. It was like the cry of a
fallen spirit, which sneeringly derides itself.

All the tender compassion of Mabel's nature was aroused—
“My poor brother! my poor Harry!” was her mental exclamation,—
“is there no good angel to save him yet?”

She listened to his heavy and measured steps, as, after parting
with his evil associate, he came slowly up the staircase;
he paused a moment at her door; she thought he meant to
enter, and bid her farewell, for he knew she was to depart
early on the morrow; but no,—he passed on and ascended
the next flight to his own chamber, which he entered, and
closed the door.

“I cannot leave him thus,” thought Mabel, as she pictured
him to herself, alone, ruined, uncared for; and yielding to a
sudden and tender impulse, she resolved to seek him, speak an
affectionate word, and assure him of her love.

She feared to knock at his door, lest she should be repulsed,
or dismissed with a hasty good-bye; so, gently opening it, she
presented herself unexpectedly before him. He was pacing
restlessly up and down the room,—seemed almost angry at
being intruded upon, as if he suspected that she had come to
pry into his secret thoughts, and turning upon her with an
abrupt, imperative air, appeared to demand the object of her

“Harry,” said she, her lip trembling with the effort to
speak in a natural tone of voice, “I could not bear to go away
without bidding you good-bye;” she passed her arm, coaxingly,
through his as she spoke, and accompanied him for a
few steps in his walk up and down the room.

With his face now obstinately turned from her, he answered
only in the brief words, “Are you going early in the morning?”

“Yes, and I was afraid you would not be up in season to
see me off; but you will write to me, won't you, Harry?”

“I sha'n't know where you are,” he replied curtly.

“I will write, and tell you where to direct.”

Still he did not promise.

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“I shall have no one else to write to me; father will be
away, and I have always depended on you, Harry,” added
she, in a tone calculated to impress him with the value she
should place upon his letters.

“Poh!” exclaimed he, with a slight nervous jerk, which
was sufficient to induce her to let go his arm “I shall have
nothing worth telling,—you'll have plenty of better entertainment.”

“Where shall you be?” she asked timidly.

“I? I do n't know, I'm sure. I have not made up my

She found it hard to press the subject further, he was so
short in his answers. She walked to the window and looked
out, then strayed to the bureau and occupied herself in examining
the trinkets which lay upon it, hoping Harry would broach
some topic of mutual interest, but he remained perseveringly
silent. She would gladly have drawn near, thrown her arms
round his neck, and entreated his confidence, his renewed
affection at parting, but he gave her no encouragement. “It
is late, I suppose,” said she at length, seeing that he appeared
surprised, if not impatient, at her lingering. “So good-bye,
Harry,” and approaching him, she laid her hand on his shoulder.

He started as if her touch pained him. She looked in his
face earnestly, imploringly; his features twitched, and there
was a nervous embarrassment in his manner as, studionsly
avoiding her eye, he stooped down, returned her parting kiss,
and responded to her good-bye.

With hurried and tremulous step Mabel hastened back to
her room, threw herself on a low seat opposite the empty
trunk, and burst into tears. She had sought her brother with
a view to appeasing her overcharged feelings, and defraying a
debt to her conscience, but neither purpose had been effected
by the brief and unsatisfactory interview.

She had found him in a desperate mood,—she had read in
his face the mental torture under which he writhed,—she
had failed to break down the barrier between her own heart

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and his, and with little more than a mechanical farewell she
had turned her back upon his misery.

Should she leave him thus, abandoned by his sister as well
as by his better self?

The deep and almost hysterical sobs which escaped her,
proved that the struggle of contending feelings had now
reached its height, and for some minutes she wept as children
weep, without any effort at self-control. As this storm of
grief subsided, and she sat for a while maintaining an inward
war, but apparently gazing into vacancy, she stretched forth
her hand with an absent air and raised the inner lid of her
trunk. As she did so she caught sight of a little package
lying in a corner, directed to herself, in the familiar handwriting
of Mrs. Herbert. It had been placed there when she left
school, and, by Cecilia's carelessness, had remained undiscovered
until now. Almost believing it to be a message of
counsel and advice from that friend who had always come to
her aid in moments when she was at a loss for guidance, she
hastily tore off the wrapper, and found it to contain a little
pocket bible. Touched by this proof of affection, and by the
nature of the gift, she opened the book, with reverence, at the
first epistle of St. John, where a slip of paper was inserted,
and her eye at once fell on the words, carefully marked, as if
to attract her attention: “My little children, let us not love
in word, neither in tongue, but in deed and in truth.”

Awed by the solemn charge, which she realized to be armed
with divine authority, Mabel bowed her head upon the lid of
her trunk, and, with the volume clasped in her hands, sunk
upon her knees.

Now rose before her that long forgotten scene in her childhood,
when first Mrs. Herbert had striven to impress upon
her this great lesson. How vividly still did memory recall
that last evening of her school life, when her faithful teacher
had bid her beware of that insidious foe, whose existence in
her heart she had so proudly denied,—that demon of selflove,
which undermines the holiest affections and enslaves the
corrupted soul.

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She could no longer deceive herself; with all her enlarged
opportunities, with all her self-confidence and pride, with all
her boasted love for Harry, she felt that she had been weighed
in the balance and found wanting,—that she had been out-done
in generosity by a feeble, invalid child,—that she had
not loved like Rosy.

Contrite, humbled, eager to be enlightened in the path of
duty, she lifted her bowed head and again opened the inspired
book; but this time her eyes fell on the words, “For if our
hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, and knoweth
all things.”

As if suddenly, and for the first time in her life, made conscious
of the invisible presence of Him to whom all hearts
are open, all desires known, she now ceased to wrestle with
herself, and looking up for the help she so earnestly craved,
she poured out her soul in prayer. The form, the attitude,
the words of devotion, if not habitual, were at least not new
to one who had been a member of a religious household, and
shared the benefits of religious instruction. But never before
had she come, in all the submission of a child, to lay before
God's throne the sincere offering of a humble, contrite heart;
never before had she approached in that spirit of self-consecration
which cries out, “Thy will, not mine, be done.”

And with prayer came strength. She rose from her knees
armed with a Christian resolution, and fortified with a
Christian hope; the resolution to meet evil face to face;
the hope to triumph at length over sin. It was not her own
sin only that she was thus to combat; for in that hour of
high communing she had dedicated herself to a sacred cause,
and charged herself with a solemn trust. Not in word and
tongue only, but in deed and in truth, would she prove a
sister's devotion, and labor for a brother's welfare. With her
watchword, duty, and her banner, love, she would place herself
boldly at Harry's side, and, with the blessing of God, prove
herself the good angel who would save him yet.

It was with no blind zeal, no inconsiderate impulse, that
she had thus set herself to the fulfilment of her

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heaven-appointed mission. She had thoroughly measured and fully
understood the sacrifice it would involve. She knew that, in
consecrating herself to duty and to God, she must dethrone
her young heart's earthly idol; that the selfish love must yield
to the purely disinterested, the human to the divine. Had it
been otherwise, she would not so long have been deaf to the
call which summoned her to her Master's service.

Beguiled by a persuasive intellect, enthralled by the power
of genius, and a willing captive in the chains which flattery so
well knows how to forge, she had wandered awhile through
the flowery fields of pleasure, had reached the pinnacle of her
ambition, had sunned herself in dreams of future bliss; but
there came a time when the simple words of an infant tongue
had aroused the voice of a sleeping conscience, and, led by the
hand of a little child, she had at length been brought back to
the feet of that faithful monitor of her youth, by the memory
of whose warning counsels and by the aid of whose blessed
gift she would henceforth pursue in patience the path which
leadeth unto life; ambitious only to accomplish the work which
was given her to do, and cheered by the hopes which are full
of immortality.

In this hour of exaltation, this season of the spirit's victory,
the task did not seem hard. Already was the self-imposed
duty lightened by that sweetener of life's heaviest toils which
relieves the laborer of half his burthen; for, in the moment
when, denying self, she assumed with holy fortitude the sacred
guardianship of her brother, back to her heart, in a full, strong
tide, came all the depth and tenderness of that sisterly love
which had only been subdued and crushed by the force of a
rival passion. Thus, not only would she devote herself to
Harry's cause because duty pointed in that direction, but because,
in view of every touching memory of their childhood,
every sweet record of their maturer years, her heart forbade
her to desert him.

As she now moved through the room preparing to put her
purpose into execution, her countenance was marked by the
serene composure of one animated by a high resolve and

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inspired by a holy mission. Her manner was no longer indicative
of hesitation or uncertainty; and the hands which an hour
ago had trembled with nervous indecision, performed what they
had to do quickly and well.

She wrote a hasty note to Louise, explaining her change of
plan, but giving no other reason for abandoning the journey
than the simple truth—that, at the last moment, she had become
convinced that her presence was needed at home. She
begged her sister to write to her frequently, sent her love to
the boys, hoped Cecilia would faithfully supply Lydia's place,
and that Louise would in the enjoyment of other society have
little occasion to regret her absence; which latter hope, we will
remark in passing, she might reasonably indulge, since Mrs.
Leroy was, when in general society, extremely indifferent to
family ties.

It was nearly midnight when Cecilia returned from the hotel,
weary, and with her own preparations for the journey still incomplete.
She was amazed at the sight of Mabel's trunk,
which was still empty, while every article of her scattered
wardrobe was restored to its customary place.

“I am not going, Cecilia,” said Mabel calmly, in answer to
her look of astonishment. “Take this note to my sister in the
morning, when you meet her at the boat. Robert will see to
your baggage; remember, and take good care of the boys.”
And she dismissed her with a parting charge to retire as soon
as possible, as she would be obliged to rise early.

Not until she had thus confirmed by act the heroic resolution
of her mind, did she realize the exhaustion consequent upon
agitation and excitement; but now, with a welcome sense of
relief from tormenting doubts, and a humble reliance upon the
power to which she had looked for strength, she gladly sought
the rest which tired nature craves, and fell into a sweet and
dreamless sleep, such as for many a week had deserted her

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Cummins, Maria Susanna, 1827-1866 [1857], Mabel Vaughan. By the author of The lamplighter. (John P. Jewett and Company, Boston) [word count] [eaf533].
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