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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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O changing child and woman,
Thou hadst not second sight!
Or bending down thy forehead white,
The human to the human,
The idol's shadow would have made
Its light to vanish like a shade.
Mrs. Browning.

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Mabel returned to her dressing-room, threw herself into a
seat at the open window, and, with her hands dropped listlessly
on her lap, and her eyes gazing vacantly into a piece of blue
sky opposite, became lost in thought.

“So, Dudley thinks me a complete fashionist, a mere worldling,”
was her inward meditation. “Who has had such an
opportunity of knowing me as he has? To whom have I confided
my thoughts, hopes, and aspirations, so freely as to him?
and, can he have thus misunderstood me? Can he really believe
me the cold, calculating, mercenary creature, whom he
professes to despise? How unjust! how cruel! Is it my
fault that I move in a circle of fashion? Is it anything but the
accident of my lot that placed me here? Are my views, motions,
actions, all to be measured by the standard of my frivolous
acquaintances? I did not choose them, they were chosen
for me, and I only play my part in the sphere assigned by nature.
These fine clothes,” thought she, as rising impatiently from
her seat, her eyes fell on the rich silks and laces which were
profusely scattered around, “do I want them? do I care for
them? Are they not the mere accompaniments of my present
position? This face and figure which the world calls beautiful,”
and she paused before the mirror, “do I covet beauty, save
as it may make me attractive in his eyes? He must know—
he does know, that all else may frown and I care not, so he

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only smiles. He talks of sacrifice, and yet believes that I
would crush my heart down rather than relinquish the prospect
of a brilliant establishment. Ah, which would be the greater
sacrifice? He does not know the power of a woman's love. I
knew he despised others, but I never dreamed that he had no
faith in me.”

Ah! that was a bitter pang indeed, that he should place her
thus on a level with the vain crowds, at whom she had so often
heard him sneer. Poor child! She had trusted, with all the
warmth of her generous affections, in one who knew not what
it was to trust. The poisoned arrows, with which she had
thoughtlessly played, had rebounded and pierced her to the
heart. No wonder that she smarted at the sudden wound.

But her generous confidence was not weary yet, and the first
struggle with injured feeling being past, she was ready, with a
true woman's inventive charity, both to palliate the offence, and
excuse and pardon the offender.

“Mrs. Vannecker dislikes Mr. Dudley,” thought she, “and
has no doubt given her own coloring to his words;—things
sound so differently when repeated;—besides, she says he is
poor,—I never thought of that. He can not be poor, and
his talents would be priceless in any profession; but in comparison
with Mr. Marston's, his present means, perhaps, are limited.”
And Mabel's heart softened as she reflected on the bitterness
which a sensitive man might feel, as he contrasted his
narrow estate with the princely fortune of his rival. “I have
been careless and imprudent, too,” thought she; “no wonder
he is vexed, when strangers even are deceived.” And here
Mabel called to mind the frequent instances, unexplained till
now, when Mr. Dudley had turned coldly away at Mr. Marston's
approach, or, with harsh and cutting sarcasm, had commented
on the frivolous tastes and manners of the amiable and
harmless young man.

“I must be more careful in future,” thought she. “For my
own sake, and the sake of the world's opinion, I shall be circumspect,
and he shall never again have cause to feel vexed
with me on this point.

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“And so he believed me dazzled by the prospect of a brilliant
fortune; and is that so very strange? it has blinded
many a better girl than I. What should he know of my
actual tastes, my love of simplicity, my hatred of display? He
has seen me only surrounded by the trappings of wealth, and
the object of the greatest flattery. Can he picture me as I was
in my country home at Mrs. Herbert's? or imagine with what
joy I should shake off the fetters and chains of this artificial
life, and devote myself to the sweet and welcome tasks which
constitute the comfort of a domestic fireside? I have been
unjust to myself and to him; I have appeared before him only
in a false character, and yet I expect him to believe me true.
Henceforward he shall know me as I am.”

Thus, by a process of reasoning, in which the heart, and not
the head, furnished arguments, Mabel had finally arrived at a
conclusion which left her, as she believed, still mistress of her
own destiny. She had but to exercise the frankness, simplicity,
and truth, which were her own native characteristics, and, with
the knowledge she had obtained of Dudley's sensitive distrust,
she should have no difficulty in removing it.

More precious than ever now seemed the opportunity
afforded by the approaching journey! We have seen with
what fond and romantic anticipations she had already looked
forward to the escape from city thraldom, to the enjoyment of
a few weeks commune with nature, and with one whom she
deemed nature's fit interpreter, but now this long-talked-of
excursion had suddenly assumed a new significance, a vital
interest; it had become, as it were, the crisis of her life.

“No need of all this finery,” thought she, as she hastily
folded and put out of sight the offending articles of dress, the
nervous trembling of her busy fingers keeping time to the
impatient fluttering of the young heart yearning for an occasion
to prove the genuineness of its devotion. “Travelling
furnishes no necessity for elaborate toilettes,” was her exulting
reflection; “it imposes none of the restrictions of city life.
For a while, at least, I can act myself, and be happy in the
way I love best.”

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And how were these sentiments responded to by the man
for whose sake this devoted young heart would have deemed
nothing a sacrifice? Was this ready self-consecration met
with corresponding zeal?

Alas! Mrs. Vannecker—manœuvering, gossiping, worldly
woman though she was—had spoken some homely truths.
The cold, calculating, selfish Dudley well deserved the name
of hypocrite,—for who is a greater hypocrite than he who
stamps another as a coward, while he himself is ready to play
the poltroon. He had dared to question Mabel's disinterestedness
and capability of self-sacrifice; could his own soul have
denied the truth, that he himself was guilty of the very weakness
he contemned in another? Mrs. Vannecker had proclaimed
his want of confidence in the woman he professed to
love, but this was but half the truth; for truer, sadder, more
fatal still—he had no confidence in himself, the idol whom he
loved supremely.

Thus, while seeing more plainly than Mabel did the obstacles
to their union, unlike her he felt no generous ardor to
overlap them at a bound. It was true her habits were expensive,
but so too were his, and confirmed by long indulgence.
The whole of his moderate income was but just sufficient for
his selfish wants; was there, then, anything to spare? He
knew very well that only by a strenuous and manly exercise
of his talents and gifts, only by entering heart and hand into
the contest with fortune, could he achieve such a position of
usefulness and honor as would bring with it the pecuniary
independence which he lacked. And for this he had neither
the energy, the will, nor, above all, the faith; faith in his own
powers of persevering endeavor,—faith in noble purpose, and
in the providence which is sure to reward well directed effort
with success.

What! forego his wayward journeyings, desultory studies,
and artistic pursuits, and, plunging into the vortex of busy
life, task all his powers to win for himself a place among
earnest men! His self-indulgent sensitiveness recoiled from
the idea. Abandon the refined circles of conventional society,

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forego the privilege of intellectual opportunity, and relinquish
the luxurious ease of a bachelor's establishment, for the seclusion,
the privations, and the every day responsibilities of domestic
life! His aristocratic and fastidious nature spurned
the thought.

“A few weeks more within the sphere of pretty Mabel's
smiles,” was his reflection, as whiling away the warm hours of
the day, stretched on a couch in an apartment at his club, he
lazily watched the blue curling smoke of his cigar—“a journey
to the Falls in company with this interesting and beautiful
young enthusiast, and then,”—he sighed,—for he would have
loved Mabel, had there been room in his heart for so disinterested
an emotion. “Well—ah, well! each season brings
with it its pleasures and its claims. A trip to the Sandwich
Islands next, perhaps,—they say the climate is unsurpassed.”

Had there been an electric communication between his heart
and Mabel's, her airy castles of bliss would have fallen as
beneath the lightning blast; but there was no such magnetic
link, and she went dreaming on.

She was still occupied with her own glowing and painfully
exciting meditations, when her solitude was suddenly broken in
upon by one, who of late seldom intruded within her precincts.

It was Harry. He came in, heated with exercise, and there
was something of the ease and freedom of his old manner in
the unconcerned air with which he stretched himself on his
sister's comfortable sofa, and wiped the moisture from his

“It is very warm,” said Mabel.

“Confounded hot,” replied Harry, taking up the fan Mrs.
Vannecker had been using. “I never knew such weather in
May before. I believe you've got the coolest place in the
house, though.”

There was a pause; the subject of the weather exhausted,
this brother and sister, once so confiding, were at a loss for
anything to say.

After a few moments, however, Harry broke at once the
silence and constraint with the abrupt remark, “So we are to

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have a new character in the family.” Mabel colored and experienced
a nervous tremor; she feared the remark had some
reference to herself. She was reässured on this point, however,
as Harry continued in a tone of half-playful, half-indignant
irony, “Yes, nothing less than a lawyer,—a rusty, fusty
lawyer. It is all cut and dried, without the slightest reference
to the principal party concerned; old Judge Paradox's office
in L. is, I am told, the mint in which I am to be coined into a
legal instrument;” and Harry laughed a bitter laugh.

Mabel made no reply to this communication; she felt reluetant
to acknowledge to Harry that she had already learned the
tidings from her father.

Harry, evidently engaged in some mental process, uttered
at intervals an exclamation of angry scorn, then at length
gave further vent to his feelings in the sudden outbreak;—
“A pretty piece of business! a ridiculous farce! to undertake
to treat a man as if he were still a boy! Though a boy, even,
if he had any spirit, would object, I think, to being disposed
of in this way!”

Mabel now understood that Mr. Vaughan's arrangements
had been made without Harry's knowledge, or the slightest
reference to his wishes, and her quick mind saw at once the
probable consequences of this injudicious step. She knew
how vain it was to endeavor thus to control the youth, who
never, from his infancy, had submitted to restraint.

As if to give plausibility to the scheme, however, she remarked,—
“But, Harry, you always preferred that profession;
I always supposed you would decide upon it.”

“What if I did,” said Harry, sharply. “Is this the season
of the year to commence a dry study; and is the atmosphere
of L. likely to awaken a man's ambition? No, my father is
much mistaken if he thinks I shall put myself under the government
of an antediluvian judge, or be tied to the apron
strings of two old women. You can take up your residence
with the aunties if you choose, and sit between them all day,
learning the art of stocking-knitting; but as for me, I can
assure you, my imagination takes a higher flight.” And as he

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finished speaking, he compressed his lips, and threw his head
back on the sofa cushions with an air of resolution not to be

“But, Harry,” exclaimed Mabel, “think how you will disappoint
father. I have no doubt his arrangements with his
old friend are all completed.” Her conscience smote her as
she spoke. Was it for her to remind her brother of his duty?
Had she not also been included in her father's plans, and had
she not in like manner proved refractory?

“Look well to your diplomacy, then,” said Harry. “I
shall charge you with a commission to his old friend, and trust
to you to execute it faithfully. Tell him that the air of his
neighborhood does not suit my constitution,—that I feel myself
called upon to try a different climate,—that I have a
great repugnance to being buried in L. You start next week,
I suppose, on your enviable visit?”

“Mine?” asked Mabel, with evident embarrassment.
“What, my visit to my aunt Margaret?”

“Certainly; have you not yet been informed of your agreeable

“Yes—no,” said Mabel with hesitation; “at least, I

“You don't mean to back out, I hope,” said Harry, drawing
down the corners of his mouth, and speaking in a tone of mock

With mortification and difficulty, Mabel faltered out the
words, “Why—it happened so, that I was thinking of another
journey just at this time, and I concluded that—that—”

“That the air of L. would not suit you,” said Harry, with
emphasis, and a meaning laugh; and here he precisely echoed
her tones of a moment before,—“think how you will disappoint

“Oh, but it does not matter so much where I go,” said
Mabel, anxious to excuse herself.

Harry would listen to no such excuse, however. Her self-indulgence
and opposition to their father had, for the present,
placed her precisely upon his own level. He rallied her upon

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her hypocritical attempt to awaken his filial sentiments, congratulated
her upon her escape from parental thraldom, and on
the strength of the kindred tie established by their mutual rebellion,
so far resumed his brotherly right to her confidence as
to inquire into the nature of the trip she had in view, and the
expected companions of the journey.

Mabel sketched the plan of the tour, and enumerated the
party, closing with the name of Lincoln Dudley.

At the last utterance, Harry's only comment was an audible
“pshaw!” which Mabel well understood; for she had become
instinctively conscious that the friendship once existing between
her brother and Dudley had given place to something less than

Harry had risen from his recumbent posture on the sofa, and
stood apparently surveying a picture which hung on the wall,
but there was a bitterness in his expression that could scarcely
have been called up by the subject represented on the canvas.

“If you don't go to L.,” said Mabel, diffidently, and with
painful hesitation, “you had better go with us.”

“I!” exclaimed Harry, turning upon her almost fiercely—
“not I. I certainly should start for L. at once, if joining that
party were the only alternative;” and, with these words, he
abruptly turned on his heel and left the room.

Once more alone, Mabel would gladly have resumed her
castle building—but in vain; flattering visions might dazzle
and bewilder her, but she no longer dared unhesitatingly pursue
them. There was a something which held her back.
Never had the simple voice of duty asserted itself with such
force as now. It seemed to whisper in stern and solemn tones,
“Child of earth, beware! thy pathway here divides; thou art
free to turn either to the right hand or the left, but thou canst
not act for thyself alone. Perhaps thy choice may involve
thine aged father's peace, and determine the ruin or reformation
of thy brother. Mark then, and choose aright.”

It haunted her until nightfall. It robbed her of her earlier
hours of sleep, it mingled in her later dreams, it greeted her at
the morning light,—and still she refused to listen.

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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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