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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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But never, in her varied sphere,
Is woman to the soul more dear
Than when the homely task she plies,
With cheerful duty in her eyes;
And, every lowly path well trod,
Looks meekly upward to her God
Caroline Gilman.

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Out West” is an indefinite term, whose limit has never
been circumscribed, and never can be fairly reached until civilization,
marching on with its measured stride, has set its foot
upon every inch of ground between the Atlantic and the Pacific
shores. At the time of which we write, however, the States
which form the eastern and western boundaries of the Mississippi
were the chief theatre of emigration; though many a bold
trapper and backwoodsman began to feel the atmosphere oppressive
with the breath of numbers, and to yearn for still
deeper solitudes.

The tract of land which, about a year before, had recommended
itself to Mr. Leroy as a favorable object of speculation,
and had subsequently become the joint property of himself and
his father-in-law, was a wide and level belt of alternate woodland
and prairie, which, stretching for many miles along the
shore of a considerable river, afforded an obvious and practicable
route for a newly projected railroad. It was with the view
of monopolizing the locality, and profiting by the enormous rise
in value which was anticipated, that the original purchase had
been determined on; and, as the scheme gained new favor in
the eyes of the eager speculators, and the subject became more
engrossing, larger and larger investments were made, until, at
length, all other considerations were excluded, and their landed
interests became to both gentlemen a subject of vital importance.

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Unfortunately, however, for the realization of their hopes, the
River Valley Railroad, with all the expectations which were
centred in it, still continued a mere project of the brain. True,
it was thought of, talked of, and planned, but as yet the fulfilment
of the enterprise was postponed; some believed that the
cities which it was destined to connect were not of sufficient
importance to warrant the undertaking, and all were agreed to
wait until the time was more fully ripe for action;—all, save
the disappointed land-owners, whose fortunes and patience
could ill brook this unforeseen and fatal delay. Meanwhile,
Mr. Leroy's affairs began to suffer embarrassment; a large
portion of his capital was embarked in an adventure which
yielded him no returns; he was obliged to look to Mr. Vaughan
for assistance, and by degrees nearly all his share of the Western
property was transferred to his father-in-law, in consideration
of heavy sums advanced for his relief. Nor could Mr.
Vaughan long sustain the double burden of his own and Mr.
Leroy's responsibilities. His resources became gradually crippled,
and a train of pecuniary disasters succeeded, which, together
with Harry's debts, involved him in financial difficulties
to an alarming extent. It was at this crisis that he hastened to
the scene where all his hopes for the future were centred, firm
in the belief that his presence and influence would give new
vigor to the enterprise which was destined to restore and redouble
his fortune, and resolved at all hazards and at every
sacrifice to pursue the object of his excited anticipations. Thus,
when Mr. Leroy's sudden death, his declared insolvency, and
the fresh embarrassments which ensued, rendered a large
amount of capital necessary for redeeming his remaining share
of the property and confirming Mr. Vaughan's shattered credit,
the latter hesitated not to adopt the only expedient left him,
and part with his residence in New York rather than relinquish
his great financial scheme, or admit any new partner to his
plans and prospects. And when, finally, having by this desperate
remedy secured himself from interference, he relaxed his
zealous efforts, and, worn with labor, anxiety, and the shock of
disaster, sought for awhile the repose and seclusion of his

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Western farm-house, it was merely with the view of recruiting his
exhausted energies and preparing for a further contest with
difficulties and opposition.

That his residence there would be otherwise than temporary,—
that Mabel would ever dream of joining him, and sharing his
deprivations,—still less than his grandchildren would be brought
thither for protection and shelter, had never once entered the
old man's busy and overtasked brain; and yet, by a train of
circumstances, at once natural and strange, the remnant of his
diminished family were united under the humble roof, where
they seemed destined for an indefinite period to constitute a
common household.

Mabel Vaughan was not the first among the women of this
fair land who have suddenly waked from a dream of luxury to
the homely realities of Western life. Many are the daughters,
mothers, and wives, who, born and reared amid wealth and
fashion, have gone out into the wilderness with hearts brave
enough to meet adversity, and strong enough to conquer it;
proving by their self-denying fortitude, that there is no sphere
of life so exalted that it may not be made the school of the
humblest virtues, and none so lowly, that it may not become
the scene of the purest and most lasting triumphs. Nor is it
too much to affirm, that, while manly enterprise and vigor have
been put forth with unparalleled energy, the success which has
redeemed the waste land, and made the wilderness glad, is no
less due to the cheerful sacrifices, the patient toil, and the sympathizing
heart of woman.

The sphere into which Mabel was thus suddenly introduced
was one which gave scope to every faculty, and taxed her powers
to the utmost. There was not only much to do, but much
that was to be undone and recommenced, for Harry's boasted
housekeeping presented a singular medley of successes and
failures, and, in the eyes of a capable woman, a gradual but
thorough reformation was essential to domestic comfort. The
establishing of order in the household was, however, but a small
part of her task. There was an aged father to cheer, a brother
to whom her sympathy and companionship were the only

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safeguard, and two orphan boys to be cared for, governed, and
educated. The contemplation of the toils and trials which
these duties must necessarily involve, might well cause the
heart to shrink with dismay, and the hands to refuse their unwonted
office. But Mabel did not pause to contemplate them,
and here lay her chief security from dejection or apathy. She
was strong in youth and health; with spirits which had retained
their elasticity in spite of severe discipline, and a heart so
imbued with earnest faith and Christian self-devotion that, in
the cause of those she loved, no effort could be hopeless, and
no labor burdensome. Thus she counted not up her toils, and
brooded not upon her difficulties, but setting herself with cheerful
alacrity to the work which lay nearest at hand, she performed
it with ready zeal, and one by one, unconsciously to
herself, the various offices which she filled assumed their due
order and significance, and her daily life became a beautiful
and a sacred mission.

“Doesn't the tea-kettle boil yet, Harry?” exclaimed she, in
a lively tone, as she joined her brother in the kitchen the
morning after her arrival, and found him engaged in his bachelor
task of preparing breakfast.

“Alick,” she cried to her little nephew, who was cowering
over the fire, “do you see that great heap of pine chips out by
the wood pile?—suppose you run out and get some; let Murray
go with you, and carry the basket, that's a good boy; run
Murray, and get warm. Oh, Harry!” and she lifted a cover,
“how beautifully you have broiled that chicken!—you are
equal to any French cook, but you have forgotten the coffee!”
and she glanced at the empty coffee-pot.

“Just like me,” said Harry, good humoredly; “a fair specimen
of my ability. I have nearly let the fire out, too.”

“Never mind, here comes Alick with his chips; how many
times I have helped Mrs. Herbert make the tea-kettle boil on a
Sunday evening, when Bridget was away.”

A few moments more, and the important omission on Harry's
part was amply atoned for;—the coffee was foaming and bubbling
merrily. Mabel had placed the white bread, and sweet,

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fresh butter, upon the table—a few new-laid eggs had been
produced from the cupboard, and everything gave promise of a
sumptuous meal.

“Here comes Murray; what has he got?” shouted Alick,
as the little fellow entered, rosy and eager with excitement, and
hugging to his breast a small, fur-clad animal.

“A 'possum,” answered the child, “a live 'possum! James,
the farmer, gave it to me.”

Alick pressed forward to see this novel pet, Harry laughed,
and Mabel exclaimed, “Why, Murray, what would the New
York boys say, if they knew you had an opossum? You must
get James to make a house for it to live in. Go and take hold
of grandfather's hand, Alick,” whispered she, “and ask him to
walk in to breakfast.”

“Boots on top of the flour-barrel, and powder and shot on
the same shelf with the sugar-bowl!” was Mabel's inward
comment, as, an hour or two later, she made a careful inspection
of some of the closets. “That will never do! What is
there in that cupboard under the stairs, Alick?” she inquired
aloud of her active and willing little assistant.


“Then that is just the place for boots and shoes; it must
have been made for the purpose. The sporting materials must
stay here, I suppose, until Uncle Harry can find a better place
for them. But this nice China tea-set must be taught to keep
better company; how came it among all this crockery and
earthen ware, I wonder!”

These and similar marks of carelessness could be corrected
on the instant; but it was a less easy task to remedy the numerous
inconsistencies which the house and furniture everywhere

The plain wooden dwelling, though in many respects convenient,
was utterly destitute of ornament, and, in its interior
finish, was rough and homely in the extreme. It was one of
those cheap structures, which, in the order of progress, rank
next to the log house, and which, built solely for purposes of
practical utility, offer nothing attractive to the eye, and barely

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insure the comfort of their occupants. It had been furnished
with the simple necessaries of life by the former owner of the
land on which it stood, and came thus into the possession of
Mr. Vaughan, having been included in the original purchase
of the estate.

Immediately upon Mr. Leroy's arrival in the West, however,
when this place became his head-quarters, he had endeavored
to make it a comfortable summer residence for himself and his
father-in-law, by sending thither from the nearest city those
articles of luxurious living, in which it was most obviously
deficient; and these being purchased for temporary use, and
with little care and discretion, constituted, together with the
rude specimens of furniture which had been found there, an
incongruous mass of household utensils and appliances, which,
thrown together in utter disregard of convenience or good taste,
imparted to the rooms a most unsettled and desolate appearance.

But the same quick eye and hand which, a year before, had
been so prompt in relieving the dull uniformity of a superb
city mansion, knew how to reduce this bewildering chaos to
harmony and order; and, although Harry still persisted in
playfully styling it a bivouac and an encampment, their dwelling
soon assumed, under Mabel's superintendence, all the
essential characteristics of a home. It was true no one could
be blind to the fact, that the rich and gaily-colored carpet of
their only parlor contrasted painfully with the bare, plastered
walls and smoke-stained ceiling; that the heavy brass andirons
were but little in keeping with the rough, ill-painted chimneypiece
and wide brick hearth; that the stuffed arm-chairs and
sofa, which were among the imported articles, were strangely
at variance with an old pine table and wooden clock, which
were as indispensable as they were ugly; and that silver forks
and damask napkins only served to make the rude cutlery and
clumsy tin coffee-pot more conspicuous features in the breakfast

Woman, however, has an art unknown to man, by which due
prominence may be given to the attractive side of the domestic

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picture, while the reverse is atoned for or kept wholly out of
sight; and Mr. Vaughan and Harry were not the first who
have felt the power of a cleanly swept hearth, a neat tablecover,
a well-ordered meal, a tasteful work-basket, and a box
of mignionette in the window, without being able to define the
cause of their unwonted sense of comfort.

Upon the unpacking of Mabel's trunk, a treasure had come
to light, which had awakened in her many a touching reminiscence
and emotion, and which excited Alick to tears and Murray
to an ecstasy of delight. It was Rosy's picture of the little
pilgrim, packed in a snug corner by Mrs. Hope, and marked
on the back in Lydia's hand-writing, with Rosy's dying message,
“Give this to my dear Miss Mabel.” They hung it on
that side of the plastered wall to which Mr. Vaughan's eyes
were often turned in his half-absent fits of dejection, where it
stood out from the cold white surface, as much alone and as
highly prized as in Rosy's humble room, and silently proclaimed
those blessed truths of which Rosy's voice and life
had furnished the interpretation.

It had been obvious, from the first moment of Mabel's
arrival, that nothing would so mortify and distress her father
as to see her reduced to the performance of menial offices; and
this feeling, which his whole manner conveyed, was expressed
almost immediately in the decisive words, “Harry, we must
look out at once for servants. James has done very well for
us, with what assistance he has been able to obtain in the
neighborhood; but the case is quite different now. Even if
Mabel should only be here for a week or two, we must have
female servants, if there are any such to be obtained, and make
her as comfortable as possible.”

The saving clause in Mr. Vaughan's remark was well introduced,
for the difficulty of securing female help in a new
country is proverbial; and, though Harry fully coincided with
his father's views, and was indefatigable in his efforts, he met
with only partial success, and that not until he was nearly
discouraged. At length, however, a young and inexperienced
girl, daughter of a recent settler in the vicinity, consented to

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enter Mabel's service, and through the latter's perseverance in
training both herself and her hand-maiden, some degree of
system was introduced into the kitchen department, and there
was at least the show of a waiting woman in the establishment.

Of the trials, disappointments, and difficulties, which a young
house-keeper endures during her novitiate, most women know
something by experience, and most men by hearsay; while all
will agree, that no small credit was due to the girl who bore
her trials cheerfully, laughed over her disappointments, patiently
contended with difficulties, and maintained, meanwhile,
a happy contentment of spirit, which spread sunshine through
the house, and even forbade her anxious parent to consider her
an object of compassion.

Meanwhile, Mr. Vaughan was frequently absent from home,
on those excursions which had reference to his scheme of future
wealth and aggrandizement, and, on his return, his mind was
generally too much abstracted to admit of his making any
observation upon his family circumstances, beyond that of the
general health and welfare of the household. He accepted the
arrangements which were made for his comfort, without seeming
to trace them to their source, and sometimes came and
went without communicating a single fact connected with his
journeyings, or making a single inquiry concerning the events
which had transpired in his absence. The roll of charts,
descriptive of his landed property, was usually spread out
before him, upon the table, and when not actually engaged in
consulting it, he would restlessly pace the room; while, more
than once, Mabel was startled by hearing his step in the
night time, and, on hastily descending the stairs, discovered
him, in night-cap and dressing-gown, poring over the engrossing
maps, tracing out the course of the river, or the boundary
line of his estates. “Go back to bed, my child,” he would say,
looking up from his labors, but not removing his finger from the
place which it marked; “I am sorry I disturbed you; I only
wished to satisfy my mind upon a certain point.”

“I thought you might be ill,” Mabel would perhaps remark;

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and he in his turn would answer, a little impatiently, “Ill? Oh,
no, I am perfectly well,—perfectly.”

The autumn, however, was fast changing into winter, and
the subject of a return to New York was as wholly dropped as
if such a thing had never been contemplated. Time did not
appear to hang heavily upon Harry's hands; he was out almost
constantly with his dog and gun, and his health and figure
were becoming robust under the influence of this active life.
Nor did Mabel's high hopes suffer any diminution, nor her
fears become in any degree excited, on his account, although
his frequent and prolonged shooting excursions brought him into
contact, not only with the reckless hunter and backwoodsman,
but, also, with many a gay sporting-party from Canada and
the Western cities, who were, at this season, finding recreation
in the hunting grounds of the West. He invariably returned
home laden with game, which was no trifling feature in their
larder; and, by his thoughtfulness for Mabel's comfort, by his
anxiety to lighten her cares in providing for the wants of the
family, and by the exercise of a discretion and good judgment
which had never before characterized him, he gave evidence
of his growth in manly purpose and true generosity of heart.

Mabel's social deprivations might seem one of the most
striking trials of her lot. But although her father and brother
were much from home, and the neighborhood offered few
advantages, she found more than enough in her present situation
to compensate for all she had lost by the exchange of a
crowded city for a life on the open prairie.

The children were her constant companions. Alick could not
long be contented out of her sight, and the chivalrous devotion
which had marked his demeanor on their journey suffered no
diminution at its termination. He was her invariable attendant
and fellow laborer, and under her sunny influence the best
traits of his character were rapidly developing; while Murray,
in the keen enjoyment of simple pleasures, was overcoming
the false tastes and unreasonable temper which were due to
flattery, and the injurious influences that hotel life is sure to
exert upon a child.

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But there was still another source from which Mabel derived
sweet and welcome companionship, learning in the exercise
of a warm and tender friendship how much more precious is
the intercourse with one true and congenial mind, than with
hundreds of those chance acquaintances who are thoughtlessly
termed friends.

She was standing one day at the front window of her parlor,
watching the boys who were at play outside, when her attention
was attracted by a little, shaggy, white pony, approaching
the house at a quick canter. As the village had been laid out
with reference to that immense growth which it had not yet
attained, and a wide open common intervened between Mr.
Vaughan's residence and the opposite street, the figure of the
rider, who, regardless of the beaten track, pursued a direct
course over the rolling prairie ground, was strongly defined on
the open space and against the clear blue sky, and was watched
by Mabel with intense interest and curiosity. It was a young,
slight, and delicate-looking girl, who, dressed in a light gray
habit, with a straw hat, bound and tied with green ribbon, and
her fair hair floating on the breeze, presented a novel and picturesque
appearance. She rode with careless ease and grace,
and seemed to guide and control her little steed by a species
of magic, for as she drew near the house she suddenly threw
the reins on its neck, checked it with a word, and springing
lightly from its back, apparently bestowed no further thought
upon the animal, which followed her for a few paces, then
tossed its head, snuffed the air, and bounded to a little distance,
where it stopped and quietly commenced grazing.

Gathering her skirts lightly in her hand,—they were not so
long as to interfere materially with her walking,—she came tripping
up to the door, but did not appear to be in haste, for seeing
the children, she paused in evident surprise, stooped down
and stroked the head of Harry's dog, with which they were
playing, and asked them a few questions, to which, however,
she failed to obtain satisfactory answers. Mabel was just considering
whether she should go to meet this unexpected visitor,
when, without the ceremony of a knock, the door was opened

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and she entered unannounced, with several letters and papers
in her hand, which she was about to lay upon the table and
retire; but seeing Mabel, she paused, blushed slightly, then
with the simple confidence of one who has never known cause
for more than momentary embarrassment, advanced and cordially
extended her hand. “It is Miss Vaughan,” exclaimed
she, with unaffected astonishment and pleasure. “But I did
not know you had come. I had no idea you thought of coming.
I am very glad to see you.”

Mabel shook the young girl's hand warmly, for her appearance
was very prepossessing; she could not, however, disguise
the curiosity she felt concerning her, and the little horsewoman
ingenuously responded to it in the words—“I am Helen
Gracie, the clergyman's daughter, the village letter carrier,
my father's curate, and your father's earliest acquaintance in
the place, and medical adviser, too, I may say, if you will not
think me proud.”

Many more were the titles to honor and to love which Helen
might with equal truth, though not with equal modesty, have
claimed; for this fair flower of the wilderness, this lily of the
prairie, as she was rightly termed, was known and beloved for
a circuit of twenty miles around, and the various offices she
filled were as numerous as they were beneficent.

It was enough for Mabel, however, that she recognized in
her the gentle nurse who had ministered to her father's wants,
and earnestly pressing the little hand which had applied the
healing balsam and prepared the wholesome nourishment for
her wounded and invalid parent, she proceeded to thank her
in no measured terms for the friendly and neighborly part
she had played. She had heard her father speak frequently
of Miss Gracie's attentions, and Harry, too, had referred to
her by name; but having pictured to herself some ancient and
withered crone, laden with a huge bag of herbs, and prating
of her skill, she could not sufficiently express her pleasure at
this agreeable surprise.

Helen, however, disclaimed all praise; she had merely
recommended an application for Mr. Vaughan's sprain, which

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had fortunately proved effectual, and the dear old gentleman's
kindness had made it a pleasure to ride over and inquire after
his health. She then apologized for her present intrusion, by
saying that she had frequently been in the habit, during the
summer, of calling and leaving the letters, on her way from the
post-office to a neighboring settlement which she visited almost
daily, and as Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Leroy were seldom at
home, she usually came in and left them on the table. Mabel,
charmed with her fresh and lady-like simplicity, begged that she
would always thus dispense with ceremony; and, Helen having
been persuaded to take a seat, the two girls were soon chatting
together with a freedom which gave the promise of speedy
intimacy and mutual happiness in each other's society.

There was no question which Mabel could ask concerning the
country, or the neighborhood, to which Helen could not give a
prompt and intelligent answer, and no advice or counsel which
she required in her present circumstances, which her new
friend was not competent to bestow; for Helen had been born
in the West, and the greater part of her young life had been
passed in this very locality, to which her father, a devoted
minister of the gospel, had brought his only child in her
infancy, and where, unbiassed by worldly prejudice, he had
reared and educated her according to his own ideas of female
loveliness and duty.

“You have been a housekeeper ten years!” exclaimed
Mabel, as Helen laughingly declared that her experience dated
back to that remote period. Then, reviewing with a smile the
sweet, infantile features which seemed to mock the assertion,
she added, “No one would believe you such a veteran in the
service; but I shall take you at your word, and rely on your
advice in all domestic matters, as well as in the wider range of
subjects we have been discussing. If you please, before you go,”
for Helen was about to depart, “will you step into the kitchen,
and tell me if Melissa's bread is risen enough to put into the

And Helen accepted the invitation with the same playful

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air with which it was given, and the bread was all the better
for her suggestions.

She then spoke her farewell, and the pony, obedient to its
mistress' call, came trotting up with the playful and waggish
capers of a little dog. “Will you take a ride, sir?” said Helen
to Murray, who stood attentively watching the animal's motions.

The courageous boy answered readily in the affirmative, and
in an instant the lively girl had lifted him to the saddle, and
was laughing merrily at his delight, as she led the docile pony
round in a wide circle; then helping him to alight, she sprung
into his place, waved her hand gaily to Mabel, who stood
watching them in the doorway, and cantered off over the prairie
in an opposite direction to that from which she had come.

A moment after Harry crossed the bridge, and emerging
from the thicket which bordered the river, joined Mabel on
the doorstep, while the figure of Helen was still in sight,
though gradually lessening in the distance.

“I do believe,” exclaimed he, “you have had a visit from
that little desert sprite. This is the third time I have come
up just in season to see her beat a retreat, and never yet have
I had a glimpse of her face, though father speaks of her so
familiarly that she can not be utterly a myth.”

“Harry,” said Mabel with enthusiasm, “she is the dearest
little creature in the world.”

“I have had a suspicion of the fact,” replied Harry, “but
that is all. I invariably catch sight of her riding off as she is
now, with her curls floating behind her, and almost think she
sees me coming and makes her escape on the instant.”

“She lives in the cottage yonder; you can see the smoke
from the chimney,” said Mabel. “We are the best of friends
already, and I have promised to return her visit soon; you
must go with me.”

Harry did so, not unwillingly; and as time passed on and
the intimacy between the families continued to ripen, Mabel's
declaration and his suspicions regarding their new friend seemed
destined to become confirmed.

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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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