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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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Something was there, that, through the lingering night,
Outwatches patiently the taper's light;
Something that faints not through the day's distress,
That fears not toil, that knows not weariness.
Mrs. Hemans.

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Mrs. Ridgway was very indignant the next morning, when,
in reply to her pointed questions, Mabel assured her that she
had not been introduced to the distinguished guest of Mrs.
Bloodgood, whom she supposed, however, to be a Mr. Bayard,
such an individual having been present. So much was the
ambitious aunt piqued at this neglect, that she effectually restrained
her curiosity, and forbore making any inquiries of her
neighbors concerning the stranger, lest she should be compelled
to acknowledge that her niece had not made his acquaintance;
and thus, much to Mabel's relief, he was not again referred to
in her presence.

But the vexation which this circumstance occasioned to Mrs.
Ridgway was slight in comparison with the resentment she felt
against her nephew, when, in the course of the day, she heard
from Hannah, her cook,—who had it from Mrs. Paradox's parlor
girl, who had it from Mr. Bloodgood's man, Patrick,—that
“the young New York chap, who was a stayin' at the widder
Ridgway's, had been pretty considerable sprung,” the previous
night, and “must have got back to town by a miracle, with his
dragon of a baste.”

So long as Harry maintained the position of a gentleman,
and was courted throughout the vicinity as a foreign-bred youth,
of wealth, accomplishments, and spirit, Mrs. Ridgway, prudent
as she was in her own affairs, cared not how thoughtlessly he
idled away his time, or how recklessly he squandered his

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father's money. The moment, however, that he overstepped
the outermost limits of that decorum which society enjoins,
her worldly-wise sagacity took alarm; and now that she heard
his name lightly used even by servants, she began to apprehend
that instead of an honor, he would prove a cause of discredit
and disgrace to her house. She was not one to be
restrained by motives of delicacy from expressing, in Mabel's
hearing, her contempt and disgust at what she termed this
scandalous exposure, nor did she hesitate to acquaint Harry,
by the broadest hints and inuendoes, with her knowledge of the
shameful events of the evening, which she declared to be common
talk, and against which she inveighed as reflecting not only
upon the delinquent, but upon all who had the misfortune to be
connected with him.

Whatever indifference Harry might feel or feign at these
home thrusts and sarcasms with which he was constantly
assailėd, they were the cause of the most poignant suffering
to Mabel, and the more so as she plainly saw that although
apparently listened to by Harry in dogged unconcern, they
coöperated with other circumstances in angering and driving
him to desperation.

Conscious that he had disgraced himself in the estimation of
the respectable portion of the community, feeling it little less
than an insult to the venerable Judge Paradox to present himself
in the office, where he was but a nominal student, and
driven from his aunt's house by her worse than useless invectives,
he now gave himself wholly up to a life of excitement,
and sought only those associates among whom he was sure to
find a ready welcome. Thus, he was sometimes absent for
days together; the time of his return was always uncertain, and
although his departure was invariably the signal for Mrs. Ridgway
to denounce his idle and reckless habits, the ungracious
reception which she gave him after every absence, was little
calculated to render his excursions from home less frequent or

The rooms which he had expected to occupy were in a new
building, not yet completed. The work might, perhaps, have

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been hastened, but neither he nor his aunt cared to press the
point, for it was now generally conceded that Harry's residence
in L— was not destined to be permanent. Nothing, however,
had been heard from Mr. Vaughan with reference to the
probable time of his return, and, although the presence of his
children in Mrs. Ridgway's house was fast becoming burdensome,
there seemed no other alternative than for them to remain
there for the present.

“Do go to bed, child! Dear me, you'll make yourself
sick!” Aunt Sabiah would anxiously exclaim, when creeping
cautiously into Mabel's room at the midnight hour, she would
find the faithful sister watching at the window for her brother's

But Mabel would gently shake her head in reply to her
aunt's expostulations, and say, “O no, aunt; I am not tired. I
could not sleep.”

“There is n't one chance in ten that he'll come home to-night,”
Sabiah would, perhaps, rejoin. “You're getting pale
and miserable, and what's the use, after all?”

“I feel anxious,” was sure to be the answer. “He'll come
soon, I think,” and with a few persuasive words, Sabiah would
be coaxed back to bed, and Mabel would persist in her lonely

It was a principle with Mrs. Ridgway that her doors should
be locked at ten o'clock precisely,—a rule which had been
occasionally infringed during the few weeks succeeding the
arrival of her young visitors, but which had been rigidly enforced
from the time of her becoming acquainted with Harry's
irregularities. Thus, it was only by the most unwearied
watchfulness that Mabel could ensure her brother's ready admittance;
and who shall tell how often the wanderer was
beguiled back by the certainty that, come at what hour he
might, whether of the night or day, the same gentle voice
which had lamented his departure, would greet him at his
return, and the same sweet face which had anxiously watched
him as he went, would welcome him with a smile, mournful,
perhaps, but always kind?

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All the fatigues and dissipations of the previous winter had
not so weighed upon Mabel's frame and exhausted her strength,
as did these prolonged and midnight vigils, when, with straining
eye and ear, she thus waited and hoped and prayed. But
though the color was each day fading from her cheek, and her
step had lost its elasticity, she gained, in these lonely communings
with God and her own heart, a power which is born of
endurance, and a strength which comes only through suffering.
With the world and its bewildering sounds shut out, and the
page of duty open before her, she was patiently learning that
great lesson of life which is the key to all the rest; and in humble
forgetfulness of self, and serene reliance on Heavenly aid,
she was gradually divining that precious secret which had rendered
Rosy's little life a blessed ministry.

Her willingness both to do and to suffer was soon put to the
very test of which she had long had a foreshadowing and
presentiment. She was sitting one moonlight night at her
accustomed window, which commanded a view of the street,
and with her tired head resting on her hand, was listening for
the familiar sounds which betokened Harry's return, when she
was startled by a vehicle, which was none of his, approaching
her aunt's door, and the strange, hurried voices, significant
motions and words of caution and alarm which succeeded,
served at once to confirm the cruel conviction which had already
flashed upon her. The scene was precisely such as her
imagination had long since conjured up. Mad Sallie had but
executed the destructive work which might well have been
anticipated from a refractory beast driven by a mad man, and
Harry was brought home insensible, perhaps already bereft of

“Don't be scared; I guess he'll come to,” said a rough but
kindly voice, as Mabel met, at the door, the benevolent farmer
and his sturdy sons, when bearing in their heavy burden.

“Oh, he is dead!” exclaimed she, in a hollow whisper, as
she fixed her eyes with a rigid stare upon her brother's ghastly

“No, no, not a bit of it; don't you believe any such thing,”

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said the countryman, as having laid the helpless form of the
young man on the entry sofa, he took a silk handkerchief from
his hat and wiped his heated brow. Then, seeing that Mabel
stood like one turned to stone, watching his face as if to read
in it her brother's fate, he went on to state in earnest terms his
belief that the young fellow was only stunned; that he had
spoken since they lifted him from the ground; that he appeared
to have no broken bones; that he had been on a bit of spree
and was pretty well corned;—no offence to the young woman—
he hoped she was n't a near relation of the poor dog whose
horse, devil of a beast as it was, seemed to have the most
sense of the two; “never you mind,” added he, in a truly
fatherly tone, patting with his rough hand the head of Mabel,
who now leaned over Harry's prostrate form, listening to his
feeble but regular breathing—“he's got a lesson that's better'n
preachin',—p'r'aps 't'll be the savin' on him, soul and

“Bring him up stairs,” ejaculated Mabel, in a low, imploring
voice; her subdued tones proving, even at this exciting
moment, the force of that habit of watchful stillness with
which, night after night, she had evaded her aunt Ridgway's

The precaution was unnecessary now, however. The house
was by this time fully aroused, and poor Harry's bearers were
met on the staircase by its bustling and voluble mistress, who,
but for the old farmer's obstinate resistance, would have compelled
them to pause then and there, and acquaint her with
every circumstance of the accident, before they were suffered
to proceed with their burden. The bustle and confusion which
ensued, were such as usually attend similar events in a household,
save that in this instance, they were aggravated by the
irritation and annoyance which succeeded Mrs. Ridgway's first
outburst of astonishment and alarm. Her earliest impulse
was, as we have said, to possess herself of every particular;
her next, to rid the house of strangers; and her last thought
seemed to be of the poor sufferer, over whom Mabel hung, in
an agony of suspense, while Sabiah wrung her hands, groaned

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and anxiously asked herself—“how will sister Margaret put
up with this new trouble?” Mabel, though the most afflicted,
was the only one of the household who had the presence of
mind to send for a physician or attempt to apply restoratives;
and her simple efforts, unavailing as they were, served to calm
her mind and render her capable of affording that assistance
which the medical man required on his arrival. While Sabiah
gave up to the despair which had taken possession of her, and
while Mrs. Ridgway examined her parlor carpet to discover
whether it had been stepped on by dirty feet, and looked into
the kitchen cupboards to make sure that no stragglers had taken
advantage of the confusion to conceal themselves there, Mabel
held the lamp for the doctor, furnished him with bandages and
other necessary articles, replied to all his questions, and received
at last the comforting assurance that, except some severe
bruises and a slight cut on the back of the head, there was no
perceptible injury, and that nothing serious need be apprehended,
unless fever supervened.

“Cannot you do something to restore him to consciousness?”
she anxiously asked.

The doctor shook his head. “I cannot judge,” said he,
“how much his present condition is to be attributed to the accident,
and how much to previous excitement of the brain. I can
tell better to-morrow.”

Morning, however, brought no change for the better, and before
night the fever, which had been the chief cause of apprehension,
set in. Now followed days and weeks of continued
nursing, anxiety, and suspense, during which Mabel was the
constant and unwearied attendant at the bedside of her brother.
As the stupor, in which he had lain for some hours, gave place
to feverish excitement, he manifested, in no measured terms,
his preference for his sister's presence and care; barely tolerating
his aunt Sabiah, and, with fierce imprecations and threats,
driving Mrs. Ridgway from the room whenever she ventured
to set her foot within the door. From Mabel's hand only would
he receive the cooling draught, and to her alone was he gentle
and submissive.

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The wild words of delirium would die upon his lips as his
eye met her loving glance, and his excited gestures would
often give place to quiet and repose when he felt the pressure
of her soft hand on his burning temples. Sometimes, as
she sat patiently by his side through the long watches of the
night, he would reveal to her in measured whispers the confession
of his past folly, extravagance, and dissipation; gazing into
her face meanwhile with a holy awe, as if he believed her some
angel messenger sent thither to gather up the burdensome
secrets which lay upon his conscience. A less excited imagination,
indeed, might almost have mistaken her for an apparition,
as, clothed in a long white wrapper, and becoming each
day more pale and worn, she moved noiselessly about the
darkened chamber, anticipating the sufferer's slightest want,
and patiently soothing his restlessness.

Her aunt Margaret, exasperated by the abuse with which
Harry assailed her, washed her hands, as she said, of all responsibility
in regard to him, and both by her own indignant
and unaccommodating spirit, and by the strict orders which she
gave her servants, contrived to double Mabel's cares and anxieties,
and impress upon her a most painful sense of the difficulties
which sickness made in a household. Poor Sabiah, divided
between love for Mabel and dread of her sister's anger, hovered
stealthily in the vicinity of Harry's room, haunted the staircase
and passage-way, and patiently strove to relieve her niece's
weariness; but in her perturbed state of feeling, she effected but
little in Mabel's favor, and brought down on her own head a
torrent of reproaches from Mrs. Ridgway, who, having no other
hearer, took every opportunity of expressing to Sabiah a piece
of her mind, and declaring that she had no idea of being imposed
upon by her relations.

But, although Mabel's task was at once solitary and trying,
it had its alleviations. It was far better to see Harry lying
there in his helplessness, than to picture him amid scenes of
folly and vice; and in the gentle ministries of affection her own
bruised and wounded spirit found a healing balm, while in the
hearts of both, a silent influence was at work which hallowed

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those lonely hours, and made that quiet chamber the nursery
of blessed and immortal fruits.

It was about three weeks after the accident, and at the dim
hour of twilight, when Mabel, believing her brother to have
fallen asleep, threw herself on her knees beside him, and remained
awhile lost in meditation and prayer. It had been to
her a day of no ordinary suspense. The doctor pronounced
his patient to be nearly free from fever, declared that the crisis
was past, and gave her encouragement that he would soon be
well. This assurance had, however, failed to satisfy her. It
was true that Harry now slept quietly, breathed with ease, and
took submissively the nourishment that was offered him. Still
she felt that there was something about him unnatural and
strange. Since he ceased his incoherent ravings, he had not
been heard to utter a syllable; and although she was conscious
that he watched her continually, he made no reply to her gentle
inquiries, and, when she approached him, turned away his head,
closed his eyes, and remained in one position for hours. Could
his intellect have become dimmed? did he cherish bitter
thoughts toward her? or what was the cloud which had thus
settled upon him?

Exhausted by harrowing doubts and fears, she had rested a
long time with her face shrouded in the bed clothes, and her
soul laid bare to the all-seeing Father, when a hand was gently
laid upon her head, and a faint, broken voice, murmured,
“Mabel.” She looked hastily up, and met the earnest, tearful
gaze of Harry, fixed full and eagerly upon her. The tender
glance, and penitent tones of the chastened spirit were not to be
mistaken; he stretched out both his feeble arms, and, with a
cry of joy, she fell upon his bosom, and they wept together.
As in the days of their innocent childhood, when nestled on one
pillow, they had mourned over their little griefs, and soothed
each other's little sorrows, so now, with cheek pressed to cheek,
every shadow of past estrangement was washed away in a soft
rain of tears, while many a cherished hope for the future
dawned amid that refreshing dew of sympathy. Not a word
was spoken, not an explanatory phrase was breathed by either;

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—nor were they needed. In that moment of the heart's recognition,
that outpouring of mutual confidence and restored affection,
Mabel felt herself repaid for every trial, every sacrifice,
every suffering. She had watched, and waited, and hoped, and
prayed. In spite of weariness, alienation, disgrace, and sin,
led by patience, fortitude, and holy love, she had sought and
found her brother.

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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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