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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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From the sun's might, away may the calm planet rove?
How easy, then, for man to wander from God's love!
Yet from each circle's point to the centre lies a track;
And there's a way to God from furthest error back.

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Harry, I promised to give you these as soon as you were
well enough. Perhaps you will feel able to look them over
to-day,” said Mabel, and she put a little bundle of papers into
her brother's hand and hastily left the room.

The young man, pale and thin from the effects of his recent
illness, but so far recovered as to be seated in an arm-chair at
a table from which he had been breakfasting, unfolded the
papers one by one, examined their contents, and, with an air
of mingled thoughtfulness and shame, spread them out before
him. They were bills of various amounts, including many contracted
under circumstances of which he had no recollection,
and nearly all of a nature calculated to make a sober man blush
at his own folly and extravagance; long accounts at a neighboring
hotel for dinners and suppers shared by unworthy and
ungrateful associates, petty debts contracted at most of the
places of resort and entertainment for a dozen miles around,
heavy charges at stable-keeper's and blacksmiths, and an
alarming balance in favor of an unprincipled horse-jockey with
whom he had had frequent dealings. During the hour that
Mabel purposely continued absent from the room, Harry sat
studying these written records of his own disgrace, anxiously
calculating the extent of his creditors' demands, and revolving
with still deeper bitterness the far heavier account which lay
upon his conscience.

When she at length returned, he was systematically filing

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the bills and noting the sum of each on a slip of paper.
“Mabel,” said he, looking up as she entered, “will you write a
note for me to young Bloodgood? My hand is not quite steady
yet, and I want to ask him to call and see me this evening, if

Mabel did as she was requested, and Charlie responded to
the summons by presenting himself at an early hour. Harry,
who had not yet been below stairs, received him in his own
room; and so earnest and prolonged was the conversation
between them, that Mabel, as she sat in the adjoining chamber,
became fearful that her brother would be over-fatigued, and
listened impatiently for the visitor's departure. “Good bye,
Vaughan,” he was at length heard to say, as he left the room
and lingered a moment in the passage-way. “I will see you
again in a day or two. There will be no trouble in disposing
of the greys. I know of one or two persons who would take
them and the phaeton off your hands at any moment. Mad
Sallie will bring a better price perhaps in the city, but don't
give yourself any uneasiness about the business—I'll attend
to it with pleasure. I am glad to find you so much better.”

Later in the evening, when Mabel was sitting beside her
brother and there had been a short silence between them,
Harry exclaimed in a tone of deep and mournful feeling,

“Mabel, do you believe in such a thing as repentance?”

“O Harry,” she promptly replied, “what hope would there
be for any of us, if we were cut off from that blessed refuge?”

“But I do not mean any common sorrow for a common
fault;—do you believe in a repentance broad and deep enough
to cover such a record of folly as that?”—and he pointed to
the roll of bills—“or to wipe out such a sense of shame and
sin as is written here?” and he placed his hand upon his heart.

“Do not doubt it for a moment, dear Harry,” replied Mabel,
in a tone of affectionate encouragement. “The sin which we
have learned to hate is robbed of half its power, and the soul
is never so strong as when it realizes its own weakness.

“But the sting of memory!” exclaimed Harry with bitterness;
“the burning sting! Can that ever be rooted out?”

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“It may become the spur to a higher virtue than we ever
dreamed of before. O Harry!” she continued, her voice
half choked with sobs and her face hid upon his shoulder, “I
know, for I have felt it. Nothing has ever so fortified me
against my own weak and selfish indulgence, as the remorse
and penitence with which I now look back upon a wasted,
misspent, and dissipated winter.”

“You!” responded Harry, fondly caressing her, for she was
striving in vain to repress her tears; “dear child! What do
you know of misspent and dissipated time? You shame me
more than ever, when you try to lighten my load by pretending
to share it.”

“It is no pretence, Harry. I can never forgive myself for
being so faithless to a plain and simple duty. We had such a
beautiful home, and might all have been so happy together! I
might have done so much to make it pleasant for you and my
father and aunt! But your prophecy of me was true—I was
the first to yield to temptation, and to become the slave of my
own vanity and self-love. Yes, it is in vain to deny it—I
was not the daughter and sister that I should have been.”

“You have been a faithful sister to me, Mabel,” said Harry.
“If you had a fault in the world, it was because your nature
was so open to impressions that, like your poor brother, you
were easily led captive; but you women have a deeper insight
than we into the depths of human character, and so you can
stop short where we must fall, unless some gentle hand follows
and upholds us.” What a confiding look he gave her while he
spoke the last words—proving by it how fully he realized
that she was the staff on which he leaned.

She made no reply, and he went on. “There was a time
when I thought that the same plausible, treacherous mind that
had brought me to the verge of ruin and there left me to stand
or fall as I best might, was striving with all his powers to
establish an influence over you. I thought you cherished his
opinions, trusted his false professions, and would sacrifice every
other friend for one whom all must acknowledge to be the most
insinuating of men. I knew my interference would fail to

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open your eyes, for he was the chosen companion of my better
days, and it was I who had filled your ears with his praises.
The self-willed, ruined dog (for so I once heard him call me)
could not hope to establish his testimony against the accomplished,
spotless Dudley. But instinct taught you, I believe,
to repel the hypocrite, and something better than instinct bids
you cling to the poor dog, who is at least sincere when he tells
you how much he loves you.”

Mabel clung to him the closer, but was silent.

“Yes,” continued he, with forced and bitter composure, “I
have no right to blame any one but myself for my fall; but if
there is one man more than another who is in any degree
responsible for it, it is Lincoln Dudley. It was he whose
elegant taste for play first led me to the gaming-table; whose
systematic self-indulgence fostered in me the love of wine;
whose professed idleness robbed me of all impulse to exertion,
and whose sceptical principles made me question the very
existence of virtue. He would leave the gaming-house with
moderate winnings, while I had staked and lost every thing;
he would coolly drain the bottle, one glass from which had set
my hot blood to boiling; and when at last, in some unguarded
moment, I had betrayed my weakness, this polished favorite of
society was the first to point at me the finger of scorn, and
drive me to desperation by his contemptuous neglect. I deserved
contempt, but not from him. Nor was it the least of
my torments that, while turning his back upon me, he dared
offer his unworthy homage to the person I loved best in the
world. Thank Heaven, Mabel, you had the discernment and
the strength of mind which are needed to understand and cope
with such a man.”

“O Harry,” exclaimed Mabel, making an effort to speak,
only as she felt herself called upon to disclaim this tribute
of praise, “I am not the strong-minded girl you think me. I
did not question his sincerity. I believed him everything that
was noble and true. I would gladly believe him so still, but
I cannot.”

The tone of her voice betrayed her; it told of misplaced

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affection, disappointed trust, and weariness of spirit. Harry
put his arm around her, drew her face close to his, and whispered,
“You gave him up for my sake?”

“I could not find it in my heart to leave you alone, Harry,”
was her simple answer.

“Bless your loving heart, Mabel,” responded he, kissing her
tenderly; “Dudley and I are alike unworthy of it.”

This conversation, serving as it did to throw new light upon
the cold and artificial character of Dudley, had at the same
time the effect of sensibly weakening the hold which he still
had upon Mabel's interest and imagination. Conscious as she
was of his duplicity towards herself, she was still more deeply
shocked as she contemplated the faithlessness of his once
boasted friendship for Harry, and she henceforth began to
realize that in freeing herself from the influence of this selfish
and worldly-wise man, she had secured her own no less than
her brother's welfare.

It was one morning towards the end of August when Harry,
who had now wholly recovered, entered his aunt Ridgway's
sitting-room with a New York paper in his hand, and glancing
over the items of intelligence, read them aloud for the benefit
of his aunt Sabiah and Mabel, who were seated there.

“Regatta next week at Cape May—Disastrous fire in
Canal street—Splendid fancy ball at Newport,—the beautiful
Mrs. Leroy of New York one of the belles of the evening.”

“More shame for her,” muttered Sabiah, in an under tone.
“Where's her husband, I wonder?”

“Shocking railroad accident,” continued Harry, disregarding
the interruption; “nineteen persons killed and wounded.”

“Oh, dear, how common those things are becoming!” said
Mabel. “Where was it, Harry?”

“Good heavens!” exclaimed the latter, making no reply to
the question, and turning suddenly pale.

“What is the matter?” cried Mabel in alarm. “Did the
accident happen at the West? Father”—

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“Father is safe,” said Harry, at once relieving her fears,—
“but Mr. Leroy”—

“Is killed?” gasped Mabel, with a countenance full of
dread, while Sabiah laid down her work and stared at Harry
with strained and horror-stricken features.

Harry answered by covering his face with one hand and
passing Mabel the paper, with his thumb on the following

“We regret to learn that our esteemed fellow-citizen, Alexander
Leroy, Esq., was among the victims of this fatal catastrophe.
Mr. John Vaughan, a well-known and highly respected
merchant of our city, was also a passenger on board the train,
and, at the moment of the accident, occupied the same seat with
his son-in-law, Mr. Leroy; but the former providentially
escaped with only a few bruises, while the latter was instantly

Mabel ran her eye hastily over this account, and, as she
read the partial confirmation of her fear, uttered a low cry,
and handed the paper to her Aunt Sabiah. Not a word was
spoken for some minutes,—all seemed struck dumb by the
sudden and awful nature fo the shock, and solemn thoughts
chased each other through the minds of each.

Thanksgiving for her father's deliverance was mingled in
Mabel's mind with horror and grief at the sudden death of
Mr. Leroy; and in spite of her sister's cold-hearted frivolity,
she shuddered as she thought of the heavy blow which awaited,
if it had not already reached, her. Perhaps Harry experienced
the same train of thought, for he at length broke the silence
by the abrupt inquiry, “Mabel, where is Louise?”

“I do not know,” replied Mabel; “I wish I did, so that I
might go to her.”

“She is not at Newport, then?”

“No. She was to give up her rooms the day after the
ball, and either visit the Earles at West Point, or go to Cape
May with Mrs. Vannecker,—it was quite undecided when
she wrote last.”

“You will stay here then, I suppose, until you hear from

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her,” said he; “but I think I had better go immediately to

“Yes, do, Harry,” replied Mabel eagerly; “he may be
more hurt than we suppose; at all events, he will need you.
Oh, how I wish we could learn the particulars, and be sure of
his safety.”

Mrs. Ridgway at this moment entered the room, and seeing
the unusual agitation which was written in every countenance
exclaimed with her wonted abruptness, “Well, what's to pay
here? Sabiah, what's given you such a long face?”

Sabiah gravely communicated the intelligence to her.

“Upon my word,” cried she, “brother John has had a narrow
escape. And so that gad-about of a Louise is left a
widow, is she? Well, I daresay she has not found it out
herself yet. The blow that reaches her has got to strike her
on the wing.”

No one, not even Sabiah, felt disposed at this moment to
echo Mrs. Ridgway's remark, while the roughness of her
words and manner grated so painfully upon Mabel's overcharged
feelings, and she hastened to her own room to give
vent to the emotions which she could no longer control.

An hour or two afterwards she was joined by Harry. He
had made some inquiries concerning the route which it would
be advisable for him to take, in order to reach the distant
scene of the accident in the shortest possible time, and had
decided that it would be best to start that evening. Mabel
could not but perceive, even at this agitating season, that he
seemed inspired with new energy, by the sudden necessity for
exerting himself in other's behalf; nor could she help hoping,
that in the breaking up of evil associations, and the escape
from the scene of his recent mortification, he would gain new
strength for carrying out his earnest and manly purpose of

By the judicious management of young Bloodgood in the
sale of Harry's horses and their expensive equipment, a sufficient
sum had been raised to defray his numerous debts.
There was but little remaining, however, and he was obliged

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to beg assistance from Mabel's purse, to furnish him with funds
for the journey. Proud of the promptness with which he had
rendered justice to his creditors, and feeling this expedition to
be one in which they had a common interest, Mabel would
gladly have transferred to him every cent of her ample supply
of pocket money. But he would receive only what his actual
expenses demanded, forcing back the rest into her hand, and
saying, “You forget how much you may need it yourself.”

It had been agreed that Mabel should write to Louise at
both the points where a letter might possibly reach her, and
that, until she had some certain knowledge of her sister's
plans, she should remain at L., to which place Harry's letters
should be directed, whenever he had anything to communicate.

Two days after her brother's departure, Mabel's suspense
was to some degree relieved by a few hasty lines from her
father, dated from a Western post-town, and simply confirming
the fact of Mr. Leroy's death, and his own safety.

The next mail, also, brought tidings from Louise. Mrs.
Vannecker wrote from Cape May, stating that Mrs. Leroy had
accompanied her thither the preceding week, and had learned
the terrible news the day after her arrival.

“She bears the stroke with more composure than I had expected,”
added Mrs. Vannecker. “At times she is excited and
hysterical, but for the most part she is tolerably cheerful, and
allows herself to be comforted and consoled by the attention
and sympathy which she receives from every one in the hotel.
Alick seems to feel his father's death, but Murray, poor child,
is too young, I suppose, to realize the loss. Louise is now
asleep on a couch in my room. When she awakes, she will
add a postscript in reply to your sweet, affectionate letter which
was received last evening.”

Mrs. Leroy's postscript consisted of a strange medley of
self-compassionating and congratulatory phrases, the former,
that she had experienced such a cruel shock to her nerves, and
lost such a kind, indulgent husband; the latter, that she had
foreseen this or some similar catastrophe, and had wisely
refused to accompany Mr. Leroy into that shocking Western

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wilderness. The only really coherent passage was that in which
she deprecated the idea of her sister's coming to Cape May
where the house was so crowded, on account of the approaching
regatta, that it would be impossible to obtain any accommodation.
She expected to return to New York in the course of a week
or two; should be glad to have Mabel meet her there, and
would write again to let her know when she should leave the

The next ten days were weary ones to Mabel. She seemed
to be oppressed by a fever of the spirits, and to be weighed
down by some haunting fear. She found it impossible to rally
her cheerfulness notwithstanding Mrs. Ridgway's declaration
that it was nonsense to pretend she was so much overcome by
the death of Mr. Leroy, who could have been little more than a
stranger to her. The violence of the shock she had received,
a not unreasonable anxiety concerning her father, and a painful
sense of the impropriety of her sister's situation at a public
watering-place, all acting as they did on a system weakened
by protracted labors in a sick-room, might well account for
this seemingly unnatural depression. But so heavy was the
cloud which hung over her mind during this interval, that
Mabel was afterwards tempted to believe it a foreshadowing of
the calamities about to ensue.

A letter, at length, arrived from Harry, and with it an awkward,
square-shaped epistle, directed in a strange, unsteady
hand, and post-marked New York. In her eagerness to learn
the contents of the former, Mabel threw the latter aside, while
she perused her brother's communication. It ran as follows:

Dearest May:—After three days and nights of constant
travelling, I arrived at the miserable town from which father
wrote to you, and found him wretchedly accommodated in a
mere barn of a place, every tolerable room in the tavern, and
every spare corner in the few private houses, having been
appropriated to those of the passengers who were more seriously
injured. Father's escape seems almost miraculous, as
he was in the front car, which rolled over twice as it fell down

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the embankment. He has suffered considerably from a bruise
on his back, and a sprain in the ancle, which made him quite
helpless for a few days. He has, also, had an uncomfortable
sensation of dizziness in the head, but that is merely the natural
effect of the jar, and has already begun to subside. Do not be
anxious about him, for I flatter myself I make a capital doctor,
nurse, cook, and housekeeper, all of which offices have devolved
upon me.

“As soon as he could be moved without pain, we came to
the farm-house, situated on father's property, where he and Mr.
Leroy have had a temporary residence this summer. It may
truly be termed a lodge in the vast wilderness, for though situated
on a street of imposing breadth, in the heart of an extensive
township, the place is literally a city in prospective, a few
straggling houses constituting the village, while a wide, rolling
prairie stretches from the rear of our habitation to the verge of
the horizon. The situation, however, is at once grand and
picturesque; for on the western side we overlook a beautiful,
winding river, whose well-wooded banks form a refreshing belt
of shade, and in the grove, which is but a short walk from
the house, we have buried poor Leroy. You would be amused
with our house-keeping. The man who has had charge of the
place is unmarried, and we keep a complete bachelor's hall.
The house, however, is convenient, and has been tolerably well
fitted up during the summer campaign, so that, although we
are not luxuriously accommodated, we are very comfortable;
as much so, at least, as men can be independent of woman's
genius and aid. I tell you this because we shall probably
remain some time in our present quarters, and you will be
desirous to know how we are situated.

“Father's affairs, which were somewhat involved, are rendered
more so by Mr. Leroy's sudden death. I find I can be of
essential service, especially as an amanuensis, and shall not think
of leaving him until his business is settled. He seems to take
it for granted that you will continue in L. for the present,
and that Louise will remain at the sea-side, or go to some
quite boarding-place in the country. If we should be detained

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here into the winter however, which I have little doubt will be
the case, he will probably suggest some other plan. At present
he is too weak, and too much harassed by perplexities, to
decide upon anything more than a temporary arrangement.
I cannot bear to think, dear May, of your being subjected any
longer to Aunt Ridgway's over-bearing temper and restrictions.
I can almost believe you would be happier here, where, at
least, one is independent. This is indeed a glorious country.
I feel a larger life stirring within me, when I breathe the free
air of these noble woods and prairies. It inspires me with
new energy, and gives me strength to believe that with God's
help I may yet live to some worthy purpose, and that my darling
sister may never again have cause to weep at the disgrace
of her brother,


It is doubtful how long Mabel might have sat pondering the
contents of Harry's letter, and especially its final clause, had
not her aunt Ridgway, as she crossed the room, observed the
other document laying in her niece's lap, and exclaimed, “What
a queer looking letter! Missent twice,” added she, as she
took it up and surveyed it with those keen eyes which had
never yet required spectacles. “Strange that anybody who
could write at all shouldn't know how to spell the name of
this town.”

Mabel's curiosity being thus rëawakened, she tore open the
letter. It was from Lydia Hope, and dated a week back.

“Dear Miss Mabel,” wrote Lydia, “I'm afraid you don't
know that Mrs. Leroy is very sick at the hotel here in New
York. I hated to frighten you, and didn't know how to tell
you of it without; but mother says you ought to know, for it
wouldn't be like you not to come right away. When she first
took sick, Cecilia sent for us, and we've been here ever since.
Cecilia has gone back to Cape May to wait on another lady.
Mother does the best she can, and I try to be of some use.
The folks in the hotel are very good, and the doctor comes
ever so often; but he can't seem to help her, and she's getting

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very bad. Oh, Miss Mabel, we wish you were here, and we
hope you will start as soon as you get this.

“Very dutifully and respectfully yours,
“Lydia Hope.”

With a trembling heart, but maintaining, nevertheless, that
self-command and energy with which a strong mind braces itself
to meet every emergency, Mabel at once prepared to obey this
trying summons. There was no time to be lost, for she might
already be too late to render any assistance to poor Louise;
and her resolution to depart immediately, was equally unshaken
by her aunt Margaret's inveighing against the solitary journey,
as being the height of impropriety, and her aunt Sabiah's tearfully
remonstrating against the exposure to a disease which she
felt sure was something contagious. By starting a little before
day-break the next morning, she could reach New York at
night-fall; and whatever dread she might at another time have
felt at the thought of travelling unprotected and alone, the still
greater dread of delay banished every minor consideration.

Mrs. Ridgway, who, if she agreed with Sabiah on no other
point, shared all her prejudices against Louise, and felt for her
neither affection nor sympathy, took more than one opportunity
of protesting that this hot-headed proceeding on Mabel's part
was entered on with her entire disapprobation, and that she
never again would undertake the responsibility of having
young people in her house. As this expression of her
resolution was still further enforced by the energetic orders
which she that evening gave her servants, in Mabel's hearing,
to take up the carpets the next day, and otherwise prepare to
renovate the rooms which had been occupied by herself and
Harry, Mabel plainly understood that she had nothing further
to expect from her aunt's hospitality; and when, therefore, she
drove from the door, in the dim morning light, it was with the
full consciousness that she was bidding the town of L. a final

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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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