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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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The songs of joy are funeral cries become,
And luxury's board is covered with a pall;
The chamber of the banquet is a tomb;
Death, the pale autocrat, he rules o'er all.

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It was between eight and nine o'clock in the evening, and an
unusual bustle prevailed in the lower hall and offices of a popular
New York hotel. It was the principal season for Southern
and Western travel; the British mail steamer had come to her
dock that morning; the coaches were just driving up from the
Eastern railroad, and porters, waiters, and other officials were
clattering over the pavement and jostling each other in the
passages. A boy about nine years of age was leaning heavily
over the bannisters of the wide staircase, his listless attitude
and gloomy countenance betokening his indifference to the
exciting scene which was transpiring below, while a younger
and gayer little fellow, mounted on the clerk's desk, was smoking
a cigaretto, and declaiming, in a droll, bombastic style, for
the entertainment and applause of a crowd of idlers, who now
and then interrupted him with cheers and peals of laughter.

“Hallo! hold on! give us some more, young America,”
shouted several voices, as the little orator, flinging away the
cigaretto with which he had been bribed, made a sudden effort
to spring from the arms of the individual who supported him
on his elevated platform.

“Let me go, let me go,” cried the boy, struggling lustily to
escape; “my aunt Mabel has come,—I see my auntie; let
me go, I say.”

“Don't keep the boy from his auntie,” exclaimed one or two
of the spectators, at the same time turning to give a broad stare

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at Mabel, who had been observed by Murray the moment she
entered the hotel, but whose face was hid as she now stooped
to embrace the eager child. The light laugh and the meaning
whisper which succeeded, gave place to respectful silence, however,
as Mabel glanced around with grave and dignified wonder,
and then, with the boy still clinging to her neck, hastened up
the staircase.

Alick did not advance to meet her as she approached; he
even tried to hide his face; but when she took his forehead
between her hands and tenderly kissed him, questioning him,
meanwhile, with her earnest look, he uttered a smothered cry,
and, grasping her by the dress, followed, sobbing.

“Take me to my mamma, Aunt Mabel,” cried Murray, vehemently;
“they won't let me see my pretty mamma.” Not
daring to breathe to the children the question which trembled
on her lips, Mabel hurried on in the direction of the rooms her
sister had been wont to occupy, and, as she turned a corner,
encountered Lydia Hope, who, hearing Murray's voice, had
hastened to meet and quiet him. In the dim light, she did not
recognize Mabel, until the latter caught her by the hand and
said, in a low, unnatural voice, “Lydia, how is Mrs. Leroy?
is she living?”

“O Miss Mabel, is that you?” cried Lydia; “you have
come at last.”

“Is she living?” asked Mabel, repeating her inquiry, as
she observed that Lydia evaded a direct reply.

“Yes, she is; I can just say that,” replied Lydia, with hesitation;
“but—Oh, he mustn't go in,” added she, interrupting
herself, in a distressed voice, as Murray attempted to rush

“Stop, Murray; stop, darling,” exclaimed Mabel, intercepting
and staying him in his progress. “I will go and see if you
can come in, and will come back by-and-by and tell you. Alick
will try to amuse you, and so will Lydia. Stay with them,
Lydia, and coax them down for a few minutes, if you can,”
she added, in an under tone. “I will go in by myself.”

How the paltry distinctions and petty vanities of life

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disappear before that mighty leveller which overleaps the bulwarks
of custom, and tramples into the dust the boasted elements of
beauty, power and pride! Disease, which spares neither prince
nor beggar, now reigned triumphant in that apartment, where,
a little while ago, fashion and luxury had held undisputed
sway. The spacious mirrors were shrouded, lest they should
reflect too vividly the harrowing scene within. The appliances
of dress and ornament had given place to the stern
necessities of illness, and the rich draperies that shaded the
windows and couch had been removed for the freer admission
of air. All these were signs of the desolation and fear which
cometh like a whirlwind; but what were these to that deeper
seal which was set on the face of her against whom the flat had
gone forth! Though believing that she had armed herself
against the worst, Mabel felt all her powers paralyzed with
horror, as entering the chamber, unwarned and unannounced,
she beheld the face and form of her who, but a few weeks
before, had graced the dance and been the ornament of the
ball-room. Her beautiful wavy hair was cut short to her temples,
the once laughing eye was sunken, fixed and glassy, a
deep red spot mounted in each hollow cheek, while a dark line
around the mouth gave added ghastliness to the countenance.
The little hand, no longer graceful and bewitching in its gestures,
now nervously clutched the counter-pane; the breath was
short and interrupted, and a vehement, and, at times, incoherent
muttering, betrayed the disordered mind. The grave physician,
stationed at the bedside, with his fingers on the feeble pulse,
shook his head discouragingly, as the widow Hope applied to
the dry lips of the patient a spoonful of liquid, which she had
no longer the power to swallow.

Heart-rending as was this picture, its painful effect was still
further enhanced by the nature of the wild words which burst
at intervals from the poor sufferer; who retained, even in this
awful moment, the imperfect power of speech. “What! give
up my beautiful rooms!” exclaimed she, in a strained and hollow
tone, “and go out into that dreadful prairie! No, no, I
say; I will not bury myself in the country! Do you hear me,

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Mr. Leroy?”—then, again, after a few low mutterings, her
wandering thoughts seemed to take a different turn, and she
cried out as if disputing a contested point; “They shall not
take my jewels—no, nor my plate! Diamonds are not property;
they cannot be seized to pay his debts!” and then, exhausted
by this outburst, her clenched hands dropped powerless and
her lips suddenly closed.

With form bent forward, and eyes dilated with sudden fear
and dread, Mabel stood for a moment unobserved, just within
the doorway, taking in at a glance the whole agonizing scene;
then a sudden faintness seized her, a film overspread her sight,
her heart seemed to cease its beating, and she sank upon the

They carried her into the next room, where she was speedily
restored to consciousness, and having drank a cup of tea (for
she had fasted since morning), she was enabled to overcome her
temporary weakness, and assume a composure which, with
heroic effort, she succeeded in maintaining to the end.

“You have arrived at a distressing hour, Miss Vaughan,”
said the physician; “is there no one whom you would like to
send for, to be with you to-night?”

Mabel thought a moment, then shook her head. Among her
wide circle of acquaintances there were none whose presence
could sustain her at such a moment; and, looking gratefully at
Mrs. Hope and Lydia, she answered—“No one; I have no
better friends than these.”

It was a terrible night. A violent thunder-storm came on,
and seemed to shake the house to its foundations; the inmates
of the hotel were excited and noisy; a number of arrivals and
departures served to increase the tumult; and few, if any, who
shared that public shelter, enjoyed an hour's repose.

And while the lightning flash and the reverberating roar
caused many a heart to tremble, while the wind rattled the
window-panes and whistled through the chimneys, while doors
banged loudly and hurried footsteps tramped across the marble
floors, and voices shouted from the halls below, and bells rang
in angry rivalry from every quarter of the building, and heaven

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and earth seemed alike contentious, a fiercer conflict still went
on within those narrow walls where an imprisoned soul sought
to burst its tenement of clay; and amid the noise, the hurry,
the discord, and the strife, the flattered favorite of fashion and
the world encountered the merciless foe, did battle with the
keen destroyer, experienced the last dread struggle and the
mortal agony.

“If I can be of any use to you, I beg you will command my
services, Miss Vaughan,” said the gentlemanly, but somewhat
formal physician, who had spent the night at the hotel, but
whose professional attendance being no longer required was
about to take leave.

“You will send the person of whom you spoke?”

“Yes. I have already despatched a messenger for him; he
is usually employed on these occasions, and will see that every
thing is properly arranged.”

“Thank you; that is all the assistance I require,” said Mabel,
and the medical man bowed and left her.

She went and lay down on the foot of the children's bed,—
not to sleep, but to be still and watch the peaceful slumber to
which she herself had soothed them. She was there when they
awoke, and when, amid their morning caresses, they questioned
her concerning their mother, she gently told them the truth.

“Mamma is dead, and so is papa,” said Murray, “and so is
Rosy. But auntie, you wrote us in a letter that Rosy had
gone to a beautiful world, and so then has my mamma! And
I shall go too, one of these days,” added he, with a sort of triumph.
“Oh, won't they be glad when they see me coming!”

Alick did not speak, he only wept; not because he had more
reason than Murray to love his parents—but because his heart
was more deeply sensitive, and his mind mature beyond his
years. He could not be comforted, nor would he give any
reply to Murray's often repeated inquiry why he cried.

Mabel was soon obliged to leave them, being summoned to
meet the individual whom the doctor had sent to her assistance.
She listened calmly and patiently while, taking the matter into
his own hands, he informed her that he needed no directions; he

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understood the circumstances perfectly, and knew what the occasion
demanded;—what would be expected from Mrs. Leroy's
position in society,—and should see that the whole ceremony
was conducted with taste and elegance. It was a sad thing,
he added, that Mr. Leroy should have been taken off so suddenly,
and left his affairs insolvent too—Mabel here gave a
slight start of surprise; she need not fear, however, that he
should regard this circumstance in his arrangements, for he had
faith to believe, in spite of reports to the contrary, that her
respected father was not so deeply involved but that he would
retrieve himself, and be happy to meet every demand.

“The only wishes I have in this matter,” said Mabel, with
difficulty concealing the alarm and embarrassment excited by
these inuendoes, “are, that my sister's funeral should be conducted
as simply as possible, and should take place from my
father's house.”

She was answered by a look of utter astonishment, and the
abrupt words, “Is it possible, Miss Vaughan, that you are ignorant
of the sale which took place last week; your father's estate
was put up at auction, and knocked off at considerably less than
its value, I should judge.”

“Sold! Are you sure?” asked Mabel. “I speak of the
family residence in town.”

“Certainly; I am not likely to be mistaken,” replied the
man, whose authority in all matters connected with the good or
ill fortune of his patrons was seldom called in question, and
who felt, therefore, a little piqued at the implied doubt. “It
all went under the hammer; house and contents. I heard
there were some orders sent on in regard to pictures and other
ornamental articles, but they came too late, and nothing could
be reclaimed. It is very unfortunate, to be sure,” continued
he, in a tone of compassion, but studying her face meanwhile
with vulgar curiosity;—“these little knick-knackeries that one
naturally sets by, are the very things that give a certain style
to an establishment, and our rich upstarts that snap at such a
wholesale chance would not part with one of them—no, not if
they had come down from your great-great-grandfather.”

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He would have declaimed still further on the subject, but
Mabel, shocked at the unexpected revelations thus made
through a stranger, unwilling to accept condolence from such a
quarter, and only anxious to terminate the conversation, interrupted
him before he had time to proceed. “I have been in
the country,” said she, with an air of reserve, “and had not
become aware of these particulars; they are of no consequence
at present. If the house has been disposed of, as you say, the
funeral will, of course, take place from here;” and, leaving to
him the furtherance of all other arrangements, she hastened
from the apartment.

In the hall, she met a porter with a trunk upon his shoulder,
and the next instant encountered a gentleman, who was just
vacating a neighboring room, and who, coming hurriedly out
with a cloak over his arm, had nearly run against her in the
passage. He stepped politely aside to let her pass, and commenced
a graceful apology, but checked himself with ill-disguised
embarrassment; and for once, the courtly and accomplished
Dudley (for he it was), stood humbled and awed in the
presence of the young and unsophisticated girl. Not that
Mabel, in this moment of mutual recognition, made any assumption
of arrogance or disdain, or that indifference had
already succeeded to her first romantic preference; but sorrow
has a dignity all its own, and great calamities calmly met, and
solemn duties bravely done, set a seal upon the countenance
which may well make the selfish and the worldly tremble.
Thus, while she returned his awkward salutation with forced
but serene composure, and the blood, which rushed wildly to
her heart, never tinged the marble pallor of her cheek, the self-convicted
man of the world shrank from her glance as if it had
power to penetrate to the depths of his cowardly soul, and felt
himself abased by the consciousness that he was detected in the
very act of wilfully forsaking, in her hour of need, one whom he
had once professed to love; for Dudley had arrived the previous
night, had learned, in common with the rest of the household,
the sad events of the last few hours, and was seeking, by an
abrupt flight, to excuse himself from any call upon his

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sympathy or aid. So heartless were the calculations and so contemptible
the devices of this self-seeking, time-serving man, who,
never knowing a genuine emotion himself, was as incompetent
as he was reluctant to enter into another's woes.

It was in vain, therefore, that he strove to rally his self-possession.
Mabel had the superiority and she maintained it; and
when, after a bow of feigned solemnity in deference to her
bereavement, and a gesture of imperative haste as an apology
for his brevity, he kept on his way with a downcast eye, which
had ventured to meet hers for an instant only, she looked after
him less in anger, less in pride, and less in wounded affection,
than with the generous compassion which virtue must ever feel
for meanness and duplicity.

“Poor, dear child!” exclaimed the widow Hope, who met
her at the door of the children's bed-room, where she had once
more sought a safe place of refuge; “you look dead beat, and
no wonder, poor lamb! How Rosy would have felt to see you
in such a strait as this!” and the widow wiped her eyes.
“Come, lie down again, and let me fetch you some breakfast.
Lyddy has taken the children down to get some, and I told her
to keep them out of the way for a while, so that you might
manage to get a nap.”

Utterly exhausted in heart and mind, Mabel had not the
strength to resist the persuasions of her kind friend; so she ate
without appetite a few morsels of food, and permitted herself
to be coaxed into putting on a wrapper and lying down in a
darkened room. How long she thus lay quiet and undisturbed
she scarcely knew, for although slumber never once visited her
senses, thought was sharpened to such intensity as to forbid
her taking note of time; and so unconscious was she of all that
was passing around, that she gave a start of surprise when,
after the lapse of some hours, she opened her eyes and saw the
good Mrs. Hope, who believing her to be asleep, was patiently
watching beside her. That these hours of quiet meditation
had not, however, been fruitless in resolve, was at once made
evident by the conversation which ensued between the

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careworn but heroic girl and her humble but faithful counsellor
and friend.

“Mrs. Hope,” said Mabel, speaking with calm decision, but
at the same time looking fixedly in the face of the widow, as
if to judge of the effect of her announcement, “I intend to take
the boys and go out West to my father.”

“You do n't really mean so, Miss Mabel,” said the widow in
a deprecating tone, but looking less surprised than had been
anticipated by her hearer.

“I have been thinking it over,” continued Mabel, “and have
come to the conclusion it is the best thing I can do.”

“Well, Lyddy said perhaps you'd be for going out there,”
remarked the widow, “but, laws me, it seems such a long way

“Yes, it is a long journey,” said Mabel, rising from the bed
as she spoke, with a countenance and manner which were
suggestive of the fresh energy inspired by the greatness of the
enterprise, “but I am not afraid, Mrs. Hope. Alick and Murray
will be brave little travellers, and I have learned already
that in this country a lady can always depend on the public for
kindness and protection.”

“Dear me, what would your pa say,” asked Mrs. Hope,
“if he knew you had such an idea in your head?”

“He does not, of course, know how I am situated,” said
Mabel, “and I can not be sure what he would think best; so I
am obliged to judge for myself. We have no longer a home
in New York; I cannot take the children to my aunt Ridgway's,
even if I felt at liberty to go back there myself; I can
not stay here or anywhere else in the city; besides,” continued
she, as if bringing forward the strongest point in her argument,
“my father needs me—I am sure of it. He is still suffering
from the accident, and has nobody but my brother to nurse
him; they both need my help, and I must go.”

“Go where, mother?” asked Lydia in a whisper; “out

She had come in unperceived, and Mabel could not but
observe the earnestness of her inquiry.

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Mrs. Hope nodded in assent. Lydia looked significantly at
her mother, whispered again, and then turned away and busied
herself at the other end of the room. Mrs. Hope hesitated,
and Mabel, perceiving that she wished to make some suggestion
but was waiting for encouragement, said, with a faint
attempt at a smile, “What is it, Mrs. Hope? tell me.”

“Why, we were thinking,” said the widow,—“that is, we
were talking it over this morning—and if we felt sure you
would not take it amiss—Lyddy has a friend—I mean we
have a friend, who is going out West day after to-morrow.”

“Well, Lydia,” said Mabel, “and what of this friend?”

Lydia did not look round nor answer; the tips of her ears
were very red, and she pretended to be exceedingly busy—
so her mother saved her the necessity of replying. “Why, he
is a very clever fellow,” said the latter, “and knows his place.
Yes, Owen is too proud to be presuming, and he knows all
about the railroads and steamboats, and you might be sure
he'd do his best to be of service and take care of your baggage
and so on.”

Mabel now understood that these thoughtful friends had
foreseen the probability of her projecting this long and trying
journey, and were anxious to provide her with a trusty attendant
and escort. So far from being offended at the proposition,
she thanked them cordially for their considerate kindness, and
reserving any decision in the matter, expressed a wish to see
the young man, who, she was told, would be at the hotel that
evening. Accordingly, when Owen Dowst presented himself,
and Mabel recognized in him the ruddy teamster who had
been Rose's friend, she at once decided in her own mind to
accept his protection, which was offered with a respectful
civility accompanied by manly independence.

It seemed that Owen had relinquished his former business,
having been induced to part with his noble horses by the liberal
offer of a gentleman who coveted the superb stud for his family
carriage, and that he was now about to seek his fortune at
what was then termed the far West. As the point to
which he was bound was within one day's journey of Mr.

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Vaughan's estate, and as he intended to accomplish the distance
in the shortest possible time by travelling day and night, his
purpose and route were found to correspond wholly with Mabel's;
and it was agreed that, on the following day but one, she
and the children should proceed to Albany, and thence on their
westward trip, under the guardianship of their honest though
unpretending escort.

“Well, now that it's all settled, and it seems probable you'll
get there safe,” said Mrs. Hope, in a confidential tone to Mabel
when she was alone with her that night. “I must say, I think
it's the very best thing you could do, and I'm glad you made
up your mind to it. You don't seem to have many relations
any where 'round, and we're only humble folks, and I for one
couldn't bear you should stay here and be slighted.”

“How do you mean, Mrs. Hope?” said Mabel; “the people
in the house are civil, I believe.”

“Well, yes, after a fashion; only, you see, they've got it all'
round about the `smash-up,' as they call it, among the highfellin'
folks. Not that anybody's any reason to say that of
you, Miss Mabel; but your poor sister there—it was a pretty
hard rub for her. She heard sort o' rumors down to the seashore,
and she hurried up, Cecilia said, to find out if it was
true, and look after the things she 'd left here that she thought
were her own by right, and they weren't very ready to let her
have the rooms; and the servants, they 'd got their mouths full
of it, and kind of flung it at her—and it seemed as if every
thing came together. Laws me! 't was that more 'n the heat
or any thing else that took her down.”

Mabel shuddered as she thought of the trial that must have
been so bitter to her vain and worldly sister, and wept as she
meditated on its fearful consequences. She had no fear of
disrespect herself, but she could well imagine the nature of the
retaliation which had been visited on Mrs. Leroy, whose supercilious
manners, barely tolerated in her days of prosperity,
would have been sure to excite ridicule and contempt for her
in her fallen fortunes.

Alas for the honor which has wealth alone for its foundation,

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and the hope which is dependent on frail mortality! With
one blast of misfortune, the former is changed to ignominy and
insult, and the latter gives place to desperation, decay, and

In spite of Mabel's directions to the contrary, there was yet
one more scene of worldly show, in which the remains of the
once brilliant Mrs. Leroy were destined to form a part. Simplicity
was not in the code of that professed fashionist, who had
charge of the funeral arrangements; and they were therefore
conducted with all that pomp and parade which he deemed
essential to his own dignity, if not that of their more immediate
object. Due notice had been given of the time and place
of the solemnities; but, except by Mabel, the children, Mrs.
Hope and Lydia, whose feelings were sincerely affected, and
a few of the residents and servants of the hotel, who came
out of curiosity, the services were unattended. The clergyman
at whose church Mrs. Leroy had now and then occupied a
richly furnished pew, was absent from the city, and the cere-mony
was performed by a stranger. Still, except that Mabel
wore no mourning, which she had neither the time nor the
means to procure, there was no omission of any of the custom
ary symbols of grief, and every thing was conducted on a
scale of profuse magnificence. The carriages, nearly all of
which were empty, filed off one by one,—a melancholy pageant—
a seeming mockery of her whose whole life had been a
pageant—and, in an expensive tomb, in the heart of the noisy
city, the strange officials, each wearing a solemn badge, laid
the form of her who was destined to be speedily unmissed and
forgotten in the very scene of her boasted triumphs.

It was the dim hour of twilight, and Mabel, who had a few
hours before returned from paying the last tribute of respect
and affection to her sister, was seated, with Murray on her
knee, and one arm round the waist of the other orphan boy.
A note had just been handed to her, written on rose-colored
paper, and expressing in high-flown terms the regret of Mrs.
Vannecker that she could not come to her aid. “Cecilia returned
to the Cape yesterday,” wrote she, “to engage as waiting

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maid to a Southern lady, and brought me news of dear Louise's
distressing illness. It is truly shocking. My heart yearns to
be with her and to comfort you, if you have arrived, as was
expected; but the regatta is to take place to-morrow, and Vic
has so set her heart upon it, that we cannot leave until it is
over. I shall then hope to see you, my darling, and to find
that our dear Louise's illness is taking a favorable turn. Of
course you employ Gregory; there is nobody like him.”

Mabel was placing the note in her pocket, with a long sigh,
when there was an abrupt knock at the door. An unfamiliar
name was spoken by the servant, and a visitor was unceremoniously
ushered into the room. She started up, violently
agitated, as if the venerable form before her had been that of
a spectre; for, as she recognized the aged man, known to us
as Father Noah, there flashed across her the remembrance
that Louise had once prophesied this visit, and that, in the same
breath, she had lightly and confidently sung the equally prophetic
words, “But, oh, I shall not be there.”

Where was she? We may not question the mercy of an
infinite Providence; but the thrill which shot through Mabel's
heart at the moment, proved the strength of her conviction,
that her poor sister had not, while on earth, earned a title to a
heavenly birthright.

The good clergyman saw her agitation; but in no degree
attributing it to his own presence, took her hand gently and
sat down beside her. “If Mrs. Hope tells me truly, my dear
young lady,” said he, “you are realizing the truth, which has
passed into a proverb, that misfortunes seldom come singly.”

“I am,” said Mabel, solemnly.

“Can I help you?” he asked, in a simple, fatherly tone.

“Your kindness helps me,” sobbed Mabel, “and I would
gladly have a place in your prayers.”

“Shall I pray with you?” he added.

Mabel sunk upon her knees, and the children instinctively
followed her example, while the old man asked a blessing on

It was no common prayer that followed. It betrayed a

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perfect knowledge of the sorrows and the wants of the little
group; and as it commended them to the mercy of Heaven,
and besought for her, who was to be the guide of youth, the
strength which cometh from God only, Mabel felt herself sanctified
for the work that was given her to do, and ready to go
out into the wilderness, with a brave heart, at the commandment
of the Lord.

She rose up, therefore, composed and strengthened; and, as
the venerable man sat down, drew the children to his knee, and
expressed the simple interest which he had long cherished in
Mabel's welfare, she felt her heart opened towards him, and
talked freely of her coming experience and its possible duties
and trials. He gave her much wise counsel, expressed for her
much tender sympathy, and did not forget to impress upon the
children, and especially upon Alick, who was listening to him
with respectful attention, the obligation which rested upon them
to behave, as he said, like little men, and be to her a comfort
rather than a care.

Thus, in the hour of her spirit's need, when those who had
walked with her in high places shrank from the gentle ministries
which affliction craves, this faithful servant of the poor
had learned the story of Mabel's grief from the lips of her
humble friends, and had come to soothe her with his sympathy
and fortify her with his prayers; while, actuated by a like spirit
of Christian love, the family whom Louise had injured, and
the venerable man whom she had despised, had vied with each
other in offices of love to herself and her orphan children.

“Your visit has done me good, sir,” said Mabel, taking both
his hands, as he rose to go; “I thank you for it with all my
heart. It has made me strong.”

“May the Lord strengthen and bless you,” said he, fervently,
in reply, “and may the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
dwell in your heart forevermore.”

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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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