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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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Labour is good for man, bracing up his energies to conquest,
And without it life is dull, the man perceiving himself useless.
M. F. Tupper.

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The short, frosty days of winter were gradually giving way
to the bright influences of spring, though as yet there was little
indication in the bare, brown prairie, the leafless trees, or the
chilly atmosphere, of any other reign than that of the wintry
tyrant. The sun, however, rode higher in the firmament and
continued longer above the horizon, and the light snows which
fell now and then during the night, could not resist the power
which his rays had acquired at noon. It was that season when
good housewives improve the long days for the accomplishment
of what they term their spring work; and Mabel, in virtue of
her thriftiness, devoted all the time she could spare from her
other vocations, to the diligent plying of her needle, a species
of industry which the family wants imperatively demanded.

She was sitting at the window towards the close of an afternoon
in the early part of April, busily occupied at her sewing,
and Harry, at the opposite side of the room, was engaged with
a book. Mr. Vaughan was absent on one of his frequent
excursions; the boys, wrapped in their warm great coats, had
gone with James the farmer to enjoy his skill in calling together
the cows, which had strayed to a distance, and the house was
quiet and undisturbed. Occasionally Harry laid down his
book and yawned, then rose, gazed first from one window
and then another, and finally resuming his seat, with his
elbow resting on the half-closed volume, watched Mabel attentively
and thoughtfully, as, unconscious of observation she
stitched away on the garment, which she was anxious to finish
that evening. Neither of them had spoken for a half hour or

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more, when Harry suddenly startled his sister with the abrupt
remark, “Mabel, I am tired of this kind of life; I am going to

She lifted her earnest, brown eyes for an instant to his face,
with a half incredulous, half inquiring look, then dropped them
again and kept on sewing.

“It does very well,” continued he, “to call our farm-house
here a bivouac, an encampment, and a hunting-lodge. It sounds
temporary, and seems encouraging, and answers for a jest; but
it is no jesting matter,—this Western life to which we have
become reduced—it is a sober reality.”

Mabel made no reply; she only looked more steadily at her
work. He studied her face for a moment, but could not read
its expression, the features were so fixed. “All we can do
now is to make the best of it,” said he, as he rose once more
and walked up and down the room. Then pausing opposite to
her he exclaimed, in a tone at once emphatic and full of deep
and tender feeling, “Mabel, this is all a humbug—this great
scheme of father's. The poor old gentleman is laboring under
a delusion.”

Her head dropped lower and lower on her bosom, a great
tear fell upon her needle and glittered like a dewdrop,—
another blinded her eye; still she feigned to be busy as ever
with her work.

“He is wasting his life away chasing after a shadow. Did
you know it?” asked Harry, in a tone of gentle, anxious inquiry.

She answered only by an affirmative nod. She had known
it so long; she had read it so many times in the old man's face;
she had felt it so to her heart's core, and treasured it there so
religiously, as a fatal secret, that now to hear it spoken out,
and to find herself assenting to the truth, seemed almost like a
sacrilege, or the betrayal of a trust.

“And you knew that the rest of the property was lost; that
every thing had been sacrificed to this hopeless speculation;
that the New York house and all its contents went under the
hammer long ago; and that this was our only home?”

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Harry put these questions in quick succession, as each
received the same silent but expressive reply with which
Mabel had responded to his first query; then added, gazing
into her face meanwhile with wonder and admiration, “So
you have never been blinded for a moment to the true state
of things? You have never been deceived by all the prophecies
of better days? You have realized from the beginning
that we were a ruined family, and yet you have seemed
as cheerful as if we were at the top of fortune's ladder, and
have labored as steadily as if you had the most brilliant ends
in view! I never would have believed it of any woman.
Mabel, you are an angel!”

“No, I am not an angel,” said she, looking up with a half
smile; “nor are we a ruined family. I have learned to appreciate
a home if it is ever so humble; and if it were not for his
disappointment, of which I can not bear to think, we might be
very happy yet. You, and the boys, and I, will all acknowledge
that this winter has been much better spent than the last.”

“Yes, in the highest and best sense, we have all improved,”
said Harry; “and we know who we have to thank for it.
You and I have been but idle dogs,” continued he, patting the
head of his favorite setter, “but we have at least done no harm
for the last six months, and one of us has not found the time
wholly wasted, since it has sown the seeds of some good resolutions.
Yes, Mabel, your industry and patience have been at
once a reproach and an incentive to me. I am determined to
be no longer a drone in the hive—I am going to work.”

There was a manly earnestness in Harry's tone which made
it impossible to doubt his sincerity, and Mabel, both by voice
and countenance, expressed an eager interest and pleasure in
his declaration, which encouraged him to explain himself still

It seemed that the young man's time during the winter
months had not been wholly devoted to hunting, though it was
on an excursion of this nature that the impulse became awakened
which eventually led to important results. He had gone
to a greater distance than usual from home, and in company

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with some young English officers from beyond the Canadian
frontier, had been on the track of a deer which had recently
been seen in the vicinity, and, in the engrossing interest of the
chase, had become separated from his companions just at the
close of the short winter's day. In the darkness which immediately
ensued, he was for some hours lost in the forest; but
at length, guided by the friendly light of a log hut, he succeeded
in reaching a place of shelter, which he recognized as the cabin
of an Indian half-breed who had once before been his host on
a similar occasion.

But he was not now, as before, the only guest. A rival
huntsman had preceded him, and, outside the door, lay the carcass
of the deer, slain by this successful follower of the chase.
It proved, however, to be neither of Harry's previous companions
who had thus borne away the honors, but an accidental
competitor for the prize, who, travelling in the neighborhood,
was indebted to his quick eye and ready rifle for a success
which he could scarcely be said to have sought. The stranger
was a young man, not many years Harry's senior, and in the
close proximity to which the new lodgers were subjected in
their narrow quarters, an acquaintance naturally ensued, which
the next day's journey, passed in each other's society, was also
destined to confirm.

The manners and bearing of the expert hunter had at once
proclaimed him to be a gentleman, and his knowledge and cultivation
proved him to be one of no ordinary attainments; for,
while his whole conversation was marked by elevation of sentiment
and refinement of taste, his information ranged over a
wide field of topics, and he seemed equally at home on a question
of foreign policy, or the details of Western farming. Of
the latter he had, considering his youth, enjoyed a large experience—
enjoyment being most truly the term for expressing the
enthusiastic and hearty interest which he felt in the growth and
development of the resources afforded by the extensive plantation
lands of which he was the proprietor. These lands were
not very far distant from one portion of Mr. Vaughan's estate;
and as Harry listened to the young stranger's animated account

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of his own successful experiments in agriculture, and the almost
fabulous crops which the rich soil was capable of yielding, his
attention was, for the first time, directed to the uncommon
facilities he himself possessed for embarking in similar pursuits.

Mr. Vaughan's Western property, although purchased solely
with reference to one absorbing scheme, included large tracts
of arable land, which, at present lying waste, might be easily
brought under cultivation. Industry and perseverance alone
were wanting to compel them to yield their tribute. The
broad acres which had disappointed the eager speculator might
yet reward the patient husbandman; and while the father only
dreamed of golden harvests, the son might sow and reap them.

The ambition thus awakened was not destined to die out for
want of encouragement. The accident which had introduced
Harry to the owner of a model farm, had also secured to him
a wise counsellor and a judicious friend;—a man who had the
force and energy of character which are calculated to command
influence, and the disinterested and lofty aims which insure its
being exercised in a right direction. Moreover, he seemed to
have Harry's welfare particularly at heart, and spared no pains
to establish his manly purposes, and aid him in their accomplishment.
He invited him to visit his estate, pointed out the
evidences of remarkable success and occasional failure which
constituted his own experience, and accompanied him on a survey
of that part of his father's land which was best adapted
to agricultural purposes.

Thus, at the opening of spring, Harry's plans were ripe, and
he himself ready and eager for action. The simple structure
which was for the present to constitute his dwelling, was
already in process of erection, and he had only delayed communicating
these facts to Mabel because he dreaded to disclose
those other truths which were involved in his decision, and
which, he feared, would prove crushing to her hopes.

He had not counted on that womanly instinct which could
not be deceived in reference to their broken fortunes, nor
measured the strength of that woman's heart which rose superior

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to the shock. Nor had he anticipated, therefore, the exultant
and joyful emotions which the revelation of his own projects
awakened in his warm-hearted and sympathizing sister. Not
only was the thought of honest labor, in the tilling of the generous
soil, attractive to her newly-developed tastes, but, in
devoting himself with such ardor to the work, Harry had set
the seal, as it were, to his hoped-for reformation. If there was
one thing she had dreaded for him more than another, it was
idleness, the almost certain harbinger of evil. That temptation
was now at an end; and, looking through the long vista of
coming years, Mabel seemed, with prophetic vision to behold
her stripling brother, over whose idleness and folly she had
often wept bitter tears, developing into the athletic, honored,
redeemed, and useful citizen.

“We shall miss you sadly, Harry,” said she, when the story
of his plans and expectations was fully told; “but oh, how
happy you will be! and what a fund of interest we shall have
in your new farm and its prospects!”

“You will not be ashamed of me then, when I come home
on my Sunday visits?”

“Ashamed? I shall glory in you, Harry. I only wish you
were to be with us constantly; and I do not quite understand
now why you thought it best to commence operations on such
a distant part of the property.”

“For many reasons,” answered Harry. “First and foremost,
the advantages of transportation are infinitely better
there. For more than two miles the land borders on the canal,
and there is a large and growing city some twenty miles distant,
which will furnish a permanent market for grain. Then,
although you and I appreciate the dignity of labor, and feel its
necessity, it is quite the reverse with father, who still clings to
his charts, and sees a fortune marked out on them. It would
be a daily torture to him to watch the upturning of this land,
for any purpose so humble as that to which I propose to convert
it. Besides, I am not sure but what influences me more
than anything else is the fact that my friend Percival's farm
will be within half a day's ride of my own. By the way,

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Mabel,” added he, observing an eager lighting up of her countenance,
“I did not think, did I, to tell you that my excellent,
whole-souled neighbor is the son of your charming old lady—
and she is a fine old lady, to be sure. I saw her for the first
time last week. She inquired particularly after you and the
children, and sent her love, which I should think you would be
proud to have.”

“I am, indeed,” exclaimed Mabel with delight, “and proud
that you should have her son for a friend; he must be a noble
man, educated by such a mother. Why did you not tell me
this before? It wholly alters the case. What a pleasant coincidence!
and how fortunate you are, Harry! You will have
constant enjoyment in the society of that family. I almost
envy you the privilege of living near our dear Madam Percival.”

Harry laughed at her enthusiasm, but, at the same time
acknowledged how fully he shared it. “Although I have
learned by experience,” said he, “to be cautious in forming
friendships, or boasting of them, I do believe that Percival's
example, and the influence of his cheerful, high-toned character,
will do more than anything else to save me from becoming
disheartened and desponding,—especially as I shall not always
have you at hand, May. It is strange what a recollection
constantly haunts me of having seen his handsome face somewhere
before. I cannot help thinking I must have met him
when I was travelling in Europe. I told him so the other
day, when he spoke of having been abroad, but he only answered—
`possibly.' ”

As the season was now nearly at hand when Harry's presence
would be constantly required at his farm, and many of
his arrangements were still incomplete, his communication to
Mabel was but the precursor to his bidding her farewell, and
a few weeks later saw him established in his bachelor's cottage,
at about thirty miles distance, which, with the exception
of an occasional visit to his family, thenceforward constituted
his permanent residence. His father, incredulous of his perseverance,
and indifferent to such trivial schemes, assented

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readily to the proposition which his son made, in due form, for
the use of the land, but manifested neither interest nor confidence
in the result. Mabel, on the other hand, strong in
hope, and relying on Harry's diligence and skill, encouraged
him with her strong faith, and strengthened him with words
of cheer; and Harry, remembering and believing in the
promises, sowed his seed in the morning, and in the evening
withheld not his hand; and the early and the latter rain
watered and refreshed his furrows, and finally, when the
autumn came, the earth brought forth her increase.

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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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