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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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Oh! but ill,
When with rich hopes o'er fraught, the young high heart
Bears its first blow!—it knows not yet the part
Which life will teach—to suffer and be still.
Mrs. Hemans.

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A FEW weeks more pass away. The gay world is as gay as
ever. Music, laughter, dancing, fashion, and display, still gild
the surface of that phase of humanity, which hides its throbbing
heart behind the veil of conventional usages, or crushes down
its aching sorrows beneath the weight of an assumed gayety.
A little while ago, and Mabel was one among the crowd who
wore no such veil, and bent beneath no such weight. Her
motions were free, her smiles genuine, and her heart light.
But the case is altered now; the immunity exists no longer;
and Mabel is changed. It is not that the world has withdrawn
its favor, though its admiration is, perchance, somewhat tainted
with envy. It is not that her health is undermined, though the
roses have paled a little in her cheeks; nor is it the effect of
satiety, for the new element, which a superior mind has had
power to infuse into her daily life, has lost nothing of its charm.
Yet the once buoyant, happy, careless Mabel, is suddenly and
strangely changed.

The dull-eyed world notes it not; even affection is blinded to
the fact, and scarcely does her own heart acknowledge its painful
but unutterable burden.

Still its influence penetrates every spring of action, and
modifies every thought; for, hid as it might be from others, and
struggled with as it might be by herself, Mabel, the hitherto
light-hearted Mabel, has something on her mind.

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Whatever it may be, it is something of a saddening nature;
for the spirits which were wont to be spontaneous are now
forced and fitful; it is something alarming, if one may judge
from the nervous starts and occasional tremblings which are
significant of anxiety and dread; it is something secret, for she
tells no one, maintains an assumed composure herself, and scans
the faces of others with eager scrutiny.

Her altered habits, moreover, betray a corresponding change
in her feelings, motives, and designs. She no longer approaches
the breakfast-room carolling a gay song, or trips with a light
step to her aunt's door, and bids her a lighter good morning,—
but pauses within her own room, listens for the footsteps of the
rest of the household assembling for the morning meal, and
when she makes her own appearance, glances around the table
with a troubled air and an inquiring eye. And when she returns
at night from those gay scenes, into which she plunges
with more eagerness than ever, she seems quite forgetful of
the rest which youthful weariness is wont to crave, and, dismissing
her maid, paces her room with unequal steps, looks out of
her window at the night, or, noiselessly turning the door-lock,
moves through the house like a ghost, listening at cracks and
peeping through key holes; then, startled by some slight noise,
retreats hastily within her own room, perhaps brushes away a
tear, and retires for the night with a lamp still burning.

In society, also, many and frequent are the indications which,
though unmarked by others, betray to one observant eye, at
least, the secret fear which is ever present to her thoughts.
The quick flush upon the countenance, the rapid and excited
conversations upon subjects of trifling interest, the nervous
start on being suddenly addressed, and an occasional absence
of mind—all bear witness to the fact, which it is now the chief
anxiety of her life to conceal.

Yes, even her pathway, sunny as it seemed, stretches across
those dreary wastes which humanity is doomed to tread. She,
like the rest, has taken up her burden, and must bear it as best
she may. It came upon her suddenly. A premonitory shadow,
indeed—an undefined dread—had once or twice taken

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possession of her mind; but the blow aimed by cruel hands finally
struck home without preface or warning.

It happened thus. She was sitting for her portrait to the
very artist who had been so earnest to obtain the opportunity,
and who, with Dudley's recommendation in his favor, met Mr.
Vaughan's ready encouragement.

It was the morning after the fancy ball, already alluded to
as in course of preparation. The festivities having been prolonged
until a late hour, it was with some reluctance that Mabel
made the effort to keep her appointment with the artist; but
his time was valuable, and she was unwilling to disappoint him.
Miss Sabiah usually accompanied her on these occasions, but
as the venerable years and character of the portrait painter
rendered her presence superfluous, and the coachman had
taken his horses to be shod that morning, Mabel proceeded
alone and on foot to the studio, requesting her aunt to send the
carriage to meet her at an appointed hour.

Mr. Geraldi, whose conversational gifts rivalled those of the
pencil, and who seldom failed to relieve the monotony of these
sittings by his agreeable discourse, had this morning enlarged
with more than ordinary enthusiasm upon topics connected
with his profession, and either accidentally or with conscious
tact, had, by a warm eulogium upon his friend Dudley's knowledge
and taste, called up in Mabel's face that expression of
animation and interest which he was most anxious to transfer
to his canvas. He had reached a critical point in his labors,
and his countenance consequently manifested no little annoyance,
when the outer door of his studio was unceremoniously
thrown open, and a party of fashionable young ladies entered,
having come thither, out of idle curiosity, to inspect some portraits
which were on exhibition.

A wide screen, which stretched the whole length of the
apartment, concealed Mr. Geraldi and Mabel from the observation
of the visitors, but their loud voices and extravagant mirth
were scarcely less embarrassing to the artist than their actual
presence would have been; more especially as, however he
might profess to despise the criticism of the uninitiated, he

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could not be wholly insensible to the unqualified comments
which they bestowed upon his works.

“Do see,” cried one, “that is Mrs. Leonard!” “Looks
about as much like her as it does like me,” cried a second. “I
hope she has paid him well for making a beauty of her,” again
exclaimed the first speaker; while a third, exposing to view an
unfinished portrait which was turned towards the wall, pronounced
it a genuine likeness of Miss Oldbelle, minus her
rouge and hair-dye.

Mr. Geraldi smiled. Mabel blushed, recognizing as she did
the voices of some of her friends, and anxiously anticipating
some more cutting sarcasm.

Well might she tremble—but not for the artist; the poisonous
shafts of these idle tongues were destined to take a nearer,
closer aim, and pierce her own heart.

“Where's Mabel Vaughan?” cried Victoria Vannecker.
“Geraldi is painting her; that's the only picture I care about

“You feel a sisterly interest, Vic!” exclaimed another voice.
“No wonder!” And then followed many foolish and coarse
jokes, implying the near relations likely to exist between Miss
Vannecker and the Vaughan family.

Mabel's lips, as she listened, curled with a slight expression
of scorn at these unwelcome and preposterous projects of alliance.

“I will do the Hammerlys the credit of saying,” cried the
eldest and loudest-spoken of Victoria's companions, “that there
has been nothing this winter that has gone off half as well as
that ball last night. The whole thing was managed splendidly,
and that last dance was so exciting—it almost takes me off
my feet to think of it!” and she concluded by humming a few
notes of the most popular waltz of the season.

“They say there was no end to the champagne that was
drank,” said Victoria.

“I should think so,” said another and somewhat gentler
voice; “did you see Mr. Van Rosberg and that young creole

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that wore a Spanish dress? I was afraid they would really
get to fighting. I am sure they were both excited with wine.”

“Oh, that is nothing,” cried the loud-voiced lady. “I know
from good authority, that two or three of our set didn't go
home until daylight, and then not without help. Your Knight
of Malta, Vic, had his share of the champagne, if any body

Miss Vannecker laughed.

“What were you doing in the supper-room just before the
last dance? drinking healths?”

“Oh, Robin Hood gave the funniest toast,” said Victoria; “I
wish I could remember it—it was something about a horn;
and Little John—that was Fred Earle, you know—he responded;
and my Maltese Knight made a little bit of a speech—
all to ourselves, you know, up in that corner of the room;
but oh, it was so funny! Fan and I laughed so! I declare,
Fan—Fan Broadhead, the fairy queen—was so diverted,
that she forgot to take care of her gauze wings, and that great,
stout Mrs. Makeway brushed against her and crushed one of
them, so that it looked ridiculously. Fan was dreadfully provoked!
It served her right, though, for she never would have
dreamed of taking that part if she had not known that I thought
of it for myself. How mad she was when the Malta Knight
said something about its proving that she was a false fairy.
That was just as we went off to dance,” added Victoria, with
an affected and self-satisfied air, “and I don't know how she
managed to repair the mischief.”

“Your devoted knight was very light, both of head and
heels, at that time in the evening,” said her friend. “What
with my partner and yours, Vic, the dance had a right to be
lively. They do say, though,” and here she lowered her voice
sufficiently to impart added meaning to her words—“the Hammerlys,
and some others who have a right to know, do say, that
it is not the first time that the Knight of Malta has needed the
services of his father's footman. But, lah! they say so of
half the young men!”

“To be sure,” said Victoria, as the party, who had long

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ceased their inspection of the pictures, prepared to take leave,
and the door closed behind them with these words from the
frivolous lips of one of their number—

“Poh! What is champagne made for if not to drink?”

Mr. Geraldi, who with his head bent over his palette had
been mixing a few colors, while he impatiently awaited the
departure of the talkative group of visitors, now looked up at
Mabel, with the view of resuming his labors at the easel, but
could scarcely believe that he saw before him the same face
which he had been studying a few moments before. The
mobile features had become rigid, the lips compressed, the
complexion almost colorless; while the expression of animated
intelligence, which he had been so anxious to retain, had wholly
vanished, giving place to that vacant and absent air which
often takes possession of the countenance when the mind is
engaged in painful introspection.

Thought was almost suspended in Mabel, but memory and
imagination had called up in vivid colors a long array of living
facts, upon which her mental gaze was riveted. She had experienced
strange doubts and questionings before. It was all
explained now. The coldness between Dudley and Harry—
the latter's exaggerated attentions to Miss Vannecker—his
avoidance of herself—her solitary return home the previous
night—and the unusual noise upon the stairs which had disturbed
her slumbers at daybreak—these idle tattlers had accounted
for it all—for Harry was the Knight of Malta.

Not until the loud banging of the street door and the sudden
silence which succeeded, recalled her to herself, did she realize
the necessity for self-control. As she looked up and found Mr.
Geraldi's eyes fixed upon her, a sudden flush overspread her
cheeks and brow, and she rose quickly from her chair, as if
deprecating any further analysis of her face and, possibly, of
her emotions.

“You are fatigued, my dear youg lady. I have kept you
too long!” said the kind old artist, who had heard but a portion
of the conversation that had just transpired in his studio,

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and who had recognized nothing in it which could have power
to agitate her.

“Yes,” said Mabel, in a broken voice, and scarcely knowing
what she said, “I will go now;” and rising, she mechanically
resumed her cloak and bonnet, and walked to the door, forgetting,
until she had nearly left the room, her customary salutation
and farewell, which were at length performed with but
little of her wonted grace.

She had gained the sidewalk before she even thought of the
carriage, but then perceiving that it had not arrived, she walked
slowly up the street, and turning, walked back for a little distance,—
and this she did, again and again, unconscious of observation,
and thankful only to be in the fresh air and alone.

“Miss Mabel!” called Donald, as she was unconsciously
passing the carriage, which had at length reached the artist's
door. He was obliged to follow his young mistress and repeat
the call, before he could arrest her attention.

“O, Donald! is that you?” she exclaimed, in sudden surprise;
and then, without any explanation of her singular preoccupation,
she turned, hastened to the carriage, and springing
in, threw herself upon the back seat with evident relief, and
told him to drive on.

“Where?” asked he, and receiving no answer, repeated the

“Home,” cried she, at length, in answer to his inquiries, and
for the first time astonishing him by the irritability of her tone
of voice.

Fortunately it was a quiet street, and there was no one but
Donald to feel or express any astonishment at her movements.

They had gone but a few steps, when she suddenly pulled
the check-string. “Drive to Mrs. Leroy's!” exclaimed she, a
little imperatively, as if the man had willfully misunderstood
her first direction.

Poor girl! she scarcely knew what she said or did. Louise
was at home, and Mabel found her attired in a rich dressing-gown,
and lying on a sofa, too much fatigued with the dissipation
of the previous evening to attempt any exertion.

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Not till she was seated opposite to her sister, and a pause
succeeded the usual interchange of civilities, did Mabel ask
herself for what purpose she had come. Certainly not to betray
to Mrs. Leroy the subject which was uppermost in her
thoughts. Perhaps, though she could not herself be sure, it was
to learn whether Louise was yet conscious of the fatal secret,
which was no secret; and if so, to discover the nature of her
sentiments in relation to the melancholy fact.

“Been at Geraldi's ever since ten o'clock?” was the exclamation
with which Mrs. Leroy broke the momentary silence.
“O, Mabel,” continued she, languidly, and settling herself
more comfortably on her pillows, “how strong you are; why,
I hardly felt able to go to the breakfast-table, after the fatigue
of last night.”

“You danced more than I did,” said Mabel with an absent
tone, and the half-timid, half-searching glance at her sister,
which she had worn from her first entrance.

“Yes, very true,” responded Louise, with the flattered air
of a youthful belle, “somehow I never can get excused. How
do you manage, Mabel? However,” continued she, without
waiting for a reply, “you are not so passionately fond of it as
I am; I was brought up to it. I danced the cracovienne with
castanets, when I was only four years old, for the entertainment
of mamma's visitors. There was a Count in the room
one evening,—I can't think of his name, but I remember
perfectly what he said to me about my dancing.”

Once launched upon this topic, Louise did not pause until
she had detailed, for Mabel's benefit, the successive tributes of
flattery which had poisoned the ear, first of the child, and then
of the woman, up to the present period; and Mabel, to whom
these petty parades of vanity were nothing new, breathed more
freely as she listened. She could never be thinking of herself,
and of such trifles, if she knew what I know, thought Mabel;
and she felt a sense of relief in the idea that there was one of
the family, at least, who was ignorant of Harry's disgrace.

At length, after Louise had roamed from one frivolous topic
to another, for the space of half an hour, failing amid her own

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volubility to take note of Mabel's unusual silence and constraint,
the latter rose to go.

“Do hand me that cologne, Mabel,” said her sister; and receiving
the bottle from Mabel's hand, she poured some of its
contents on her handkerchief, and applied it to her forehead.
“I believe I have got a headache to-day,” drawled she, “I feel
very dull and stupid, at any rate; I suppose it's the champagne
I drank last night. Close the shutters, will you, Mabel?
if Lydia will only keep those children out, I may get a nap.
Was Harry up to breakfast this morning?” added she, laughing.

Mabel's hand trembled, as with her back to Louise, she attempted
to close the shutters, and her voice betrayed no slight
agitation, as she answered, “Why?”

“Oh, nothing,” replied Louise, “only I fancy he returned
rather late, and had a pretty heavy dose to sleep off.”

Mabel made no answer, except by rattling the latch of the
shutter, which she tried in vain to fasten.

“It was two o'clock when we came away,” continued Louise,
“and Mr. Leroy says that some of the young men in the hotel
did not come home until three or four hours later. I will venture
to say, Harry was one of the last to leave, for nobody
seemed to enjoy it more than he did. I never saw him in
such spirits in his life—thanks to the supper, I think, rather
than Vic Vannecker's wit, though Vic would not thank me for
saying so,” added she, in a somewhat indifferent tone.

Mabel turned slowly round, lifted her long lashes, and fixed
her eyes full and wonderingly upon her sister's face. Louise
met this glance of deep concern and reproach with her usual
light and scornful laugh.

“Don't look so shocked,” exclaimed she at length, a little
irritated by Mabel's silence, which was far more expressive
than any words of which she could have made use; “you are
just like Mr. Leroy. He talks about Harry's having got into
a bad set, and all that nonsense. I am sure his acquaintances
are the first young men about town. For my part, I like to
see gentlemen have a little life and spirit about them; I can't

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bear these spoonies who are always measuring their conduct;
afraid of losing caste among the saints; they don't turn out
a bit better in the end. But, la, Mabel, how solemn you
look,” added Louise, almost angrily. “You'd make an anchorite
of Harry, I dare say, and advise me to become a nun,
and go out into the wilderness, next month, with Mr. Leroy,
as he proposed I should do this morning. My motto is, to enjoy
as much as one can, and take life easy.” And once more
composing herself upon her couch, she commenced putting her
motto into practice by closing her eyes for a nap.

Mabel was not slow to avail herself of the hint which this
action afforded, and now hastening from the house, gave the
coachman the unhesitating order to drive home.

In that one long, silent look which she had fastened upon
her sister's face, she had pierced, as it were, to the depths of
that shallow and worldly nature,—she had measured the wide
difference between her own vehement heart-throbs, and the
feeble pulsations of feeling in Louise, and had learned the sad
truth, that in the deep experiences of life she must seek in
vain, in this direction, for a sister's counsel and sympathy.

To whom, then, shall she look for comfort in this hour of
bitterness? Not to her father, who, she trusts, may long be
left in ignorance of his son's misconduct; not to her aunt, who
would inveigh against it with a severity of which Mabel could
not bear to think; and of higher and heavenly aid, though she
was far from denying its power, she had not yet learned to
avail herself. So, for the first time in her life, as she sought
her solitary room, she felt herself truly alone,—alone with an
aching sorrow.

With what crushing force did it weigh down and paralyze
her heart! The world might excuse the folly at which it
laughed so lightly, the frivolous might defend, and the weak
applaud, but Mabel could only tremble and weep.

She looked not to the end, she measured not the fearful consequences
that might ensue in the future; her feelings had
received too severe a shock to admit of any other consciousness,
than that of a deep and irreparable calamity.

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Harry, her noble brother, a laughing stock and a by-word!—
his manly figure and handsome face a mark for the finger of
scorn, his intellectual nature lowered to the level of a brute!
It was too much; and the necessity for self-control being past,
she threw herself on her bed, and gave way to a paroxysm of

Who shall tell the agony of the mental conflict that she experienced?
It is sufficient that she rose from that suffering crisis
a new and altered being. The iron hand was upon her which
moulds the child into the woman, and she went her way, shrink
ing beneath its cruel touch. Henceforth, her inner and outer
world were no longer in harmony. The drama of her life was
double, and she had two parts to play.

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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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