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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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Bread of our souls! whereon we feed;
True manna from on high!
Our guide and chart! wherein we read
Of realms beyond the sky.
Bernard Barton.

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Ever since the period of Mr. Gracie's sickness and death,
the mind of Mr. Vaughan had seemed to some degree weaned
from the one haunting and harrowing subject to which its
energies had for the last ten years been directed, and the
River Valley Railroad, with all the expectations involved in
it, though not abandoned by him, had ceased to absorb his
thoughts. The saddening and solemnizing event which had
deprived him of a valued friend, could not fail to remind him
of the mortality which sets bounds to all earthly schemes.
The presence of the bereaved orphan in his household had
excited in him a truly paternal sympathy; and finally, her
marriage with his son, in which he took a deeper satisfaction
than was suffered to appear, had imparted to his present experience
a genuine and touching interest, which had for a time
dispelled the eager and calculating spirit by which he had
hitherto been actuated.

Thus he was, as we have seen on the occasion of Percival's
visit, more than usually alive to topics relating to the public
welfare, and not only took upon himself readily the duties of
a host, but manifested in the young man's society a pleasure
and animation truly astonishing to those who knew him only
as the abstracted, self-absorbed, and disappointed man.

Scarcely had this agreeable episode in his ordinary life
terminated, however, when the old man once more became a
prey to the all-engrossing object of his fond aspirations, and

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the mind which had partially recovered its equanimity, was
plunged into the mad vortex of bewildering and exciting emotions.

That effervescent and speculative portion of the community,
which is ever anxious to push the car of progress to an alarming
rate of speed, and on whom Mr. Vaughan had throughout
based all his reliance, began once more to turn their eyes to
that comprehensive scheme of public improvement, which included
the realization of his hopes; and the torch thus kindled
proved all-sufficient to fire his slumbering energies with a
new and lively enthusiasm. Communications were received
and dispatched by every mail; Mabel and the boys being employed
as amanuenses by the enfeebled man, whose trembling
hand could no longer keep pace with his excited ideas. Messengers
arrived from various directions, engineers and surveyors
made their appearance in the vicinity, and routes, boundaries
and grades, stocks, contracts, and government appropriations,
were the engrossing subjects of thought, conversation,
and correspondence. Once more the roll of charts, recently
fallen into comparative disuse, was brought forward, examined,
and allotted a conspicuous place on the table of the little parlor,
now become the scene of eager consultations; and once
more old Sorrel was called into requisition for those journeyings
which Mr. Vaughan, despite his years, undertook as readily
as in former times, usually accompanied, however, by one
of his grandsons, both of whom shared Mabel's anxious sense
of responsibility concerning him.

But this period of suspense and agitation proved as short-lived
as it was sudden and engrossing. Difficulties presented
themselves on every hand, public appropriations were refused,
private resources failed to be forthcoming, discouragement
succeeded discouragement, and finally, after a fortnight of
vain discussion, the originators of the movement, having exhausted
their fruitless zeal, dropped off one by one, and the
early pilot on this voyage of adventure found himself, as he
had so often done before, standing solitary and deserted amid
the wreck of his fallen hopes.

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It was too much for him; and on the day when, forsaken by
his allies, he beheld the downfall of the last stronghold on
which his expectations had been founded, he turned his steps
homeward, and, with a despairing countenance, trembling gait,
and hoary head sunk upon his breast, declined all nourishment,
and sought his bed, from which he seemed destined
never to rise again.

Nor was it mental despondency alone which had thus reduced
him. In his eager pursuit of the fortune which he felt
to be at length almost within his grasp, he had spared himself
neither privation, exposure, nor fatigue, frequently continuing
abroad until a late hour, unprotected from the heavy nightdews,
eating his meals with but little appetite or regularity,
and deprived, by excitement, of all natural and refreshing
rest. These circumstances, acting upon a constitution already
enfeebled by anxiety and years, could have but one result;
and when, at last, the suspense was ended, and the blow of
final disappointment struck home, it was disease no less than
despair, which prostrated the aged man, and alarmed his family
at once for his reason and his life.

He asked no questions, expressed no wants, and made no
complaints; his only sign of intelligence being conveyed in the
mournful inquiry with which he scanned the faces about him,
as if seeking to discover whether his family shared his anguish
at the bursting of fortune's bubble; and it was not until symptoms
of pneumonia made their appearance, that the village
physician was summoned and his condition rightly understood.

All ordinary avocations were now abandoned, and the whole
household united in attentions and devotion to one whom
Mabel's example, no less than their own feelings, had taught
them to regard with that tenderness which is usually paid
exclusively to infancy. His comfortable bed-room opened
directly into their only parlor; but the perfect quiet which
reigned there was never disturbed by this circumstance, for
even Murray shared the general solicitude, and softened his
voice instinctively the moment he entered the house. Mabel,
whose capabilities as a nurse had been well proved already,

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was ever at the post of duty, reinforced and aided, however,
by Alick, who, patient, gentle, and capable as a woman, placed
himself at his grandfather's bedside and waited on him with an
assiduity which was touching in a youth of his years. Thus
nursed with the most faithful devotion, and preserved from
every agitating sight and sound, it soon became evident that
while Mr. Vaughan's outward man was wrestling with deepseated
disease, and his life hung, as it were, upon a thread,
his mind was gradually resuming more than its wonted calmness,
and his face was marked with serenity and repose. His
eye, which at times had been penetrating in its stare, or blank
with vacuity, now wore a mild, benignant expression as it was
turned upon his daughter, sister, and grandchildren; and as he
watched their movements about his room, his countenance
indicated pleasure and satisfaction at the peace, harmony, and
good order which pervaded the apartment.

As his disease approached the stage when the physician
confessed apprehensions for the life of his patient, Murray was
despatched to communicate the tidings to Harry and Helen,
who hastened to him without delay; but, on their arrival, the
crisis had already passed, the patient had rallied, and there
was now a prospect of his speedy recovery.

“I thought I never should see you again, my boy,” said the
feeble invalid, as he stretched out his wasted hand and clasped
that of his son in cordial and tender greeting. “I have been
very ill.”

The strong man was subdued in Harry, as he beheld the
wasted form of his father, and marked the unusual depth and
pathos of his tones. He could not trust himself to speak, but
sat down at the head of the bed, a little out of sight.

“I have had another disappointment, Harry,” said the old
man, in a low, expressive tone, at the same time turning his
head a little that he might see his son's face. “Did you know

“Yes, father,” said Harry; “I know all about it, and I hope
it is the last you will ever have on the subject. It is not worth
a regret, except for the illness it has caused you. No

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advantage we could have from that quarter could make us half so
happy as we shall be now, when we see you well again.”

Mr. Vaughan, who had turned his eyes in another direction,
once more fixed them on his son, as if to judge of his sincerity;
then, apparently satisfied, he inquired for Helen, who at once
came forward, saying, “Here I am, Sir, only waiting my turn!”

He smiled affectionately upon her, thanked her for coming
so far to see a sick old man, made her sit down on the side of
his bed, and would have wearied himself with questioning her
concerning her new home, but the doctor fortunately came in
at the moment and saved him from the consequences of too
much fatigue.

“Leave the door open, Mabel,” said he, when his daughter,
who, later in the evening came to bring him a cup of tea, was
about to close the door opening into the parlor. “Do not be
afraid of disturbing me; I like to hear you talk. Inquire of
Harry about his farm and his crops, and tell him about Mr.
Percival's visit to us and his address to the people.”

Wondering, scarcely daring to trust the evidence of her
senses, Mabel did as she was requested, asking herself, meanwhile,
what could have awakened in her hitherto self-absorbed
and indifferent parent, such a thoughtful interest in his children's
conversation and pursuits. She half suspected that it had its
source in feverish excitement, and that he would experience,
in consequence, a wakeful night, possibly a relapse. But, on
the contrary, the soft murmur of pleasant voices seemed to
have a soothing influence upon the invalid, for his sleep was
more than usually refreshing, and, so far from his suffering a
relapse, two days after, when Harry and Helen left to return
home, he was decidedly convalescent.

One evening, while he was still confined to his bed, Mabel,
who had been sitting beside him for an hour or more, rose,
listened a moment to his regular breathing, then, believing him
to be asleep, went cautiously out into the parlor, and, in her
anxiety to close the latch gently, unintentionally left the door
ajar. It was the season of the brilliant harvest moon, whose
rays were streaming across the floor and Sabiah who always

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loved a moonlight night, was enjoying it at her favorite window.
Weary with the labors of the day, and suffering also from a
headache, which was unusual to her, Mabel approached with a
languid step, and, sitting down on a low footstool, leaned against
her aunt's knee. They had remained thus in silence for some
time, when Sabiah almost startled her niece by the abruptness
and warmth with which she exclaimed, “Mabel, I am afraid
you will be an old maid!”

The low, merry laugh which succeeded Mabel's first astonishment
at her aunt's earnestness, seemed to signify how little
she dreaded the doom of which Sabiah had such a fearful foreboding.

“Ay, you may laugh now,” said Sabiah, “but it will be a
different thing when you come to be an old woman and have
nobody to love you or take care of you. You think you can't
do enough for those boys, and Harry, and your father, and me,
and you never stop to ask what is going to become of yourself.
It's well enough, now, while you can have the comfort of feeling
that we couldn't do without you, but what if you should
find yourself at last all alone in the world, with nobody to care
whether you lived or died?”

“Has it been so with you, Aunt?” asked Mabel.

“No, child!” answered Sabiah, with feeling, at the same
time smoothing Mabel's hair tenderly with her hand. “I thank
God for the mercy with which he is leading me on the downhill
of life. But don't trust to my experience. You won't
find another Mabel in the world.”

“I shall always find somebody to love,” said Mabel; “somebody
to whom I can be of use.”

“Yes, I am sure of that,” said Sabiah. “You'll find such,
if any body can; but if there was one thing more than another
that I have prayed might come to pass, it was that I might
live to see you a happy wife. But, oh! there's disappointments
everywhere. When you were in New York I used always to
be afraid some scapegrace would be hanging round after your
father's money. There was Mr. Dudley—to be sure, I always
liked him, and thought something would come of his following

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you up so sharp, but you couldn't seem between you to make
that go.”

Mabel smiled thoughtfully, as she remembered the indiscriminate
zeal with which her aunt had always espoused Dudley's
interests. There was no other emotion awakened in her heart,
however, at the mention of his name. The events connected
with this early preference, viewed as they were through the
glass of a memory laden with anxieties and care, seemed to be
rather a part of her child-life, than a bitter and realized fact in
her womanhood.

“And now, out here,” continued Sabiah,—“well, they used
to say, when I was a gal, if you are meant to be married, you
will be, and you may as well sit in the chimney corner and
wait; but, la, one might wait here to all eternity and never
see any body that was good enough for you. Ah, that's the
rub, after all, to find any body that's good enough for you,

“I never saw but one person that was good enough for her,”
said Alick, who had come in unperceived.

“And who was that, pray?” asked Sabiah.

“Mr. Percival.”

“Well,” said Sabiah, “I know you boys think there never
was anything that could hold a candle to him. And so he is a
handsome fellow, and very entertaining; but he isn't thinking
about a wife. His head is full of politics. Besides, I always
have a dread of your political characters—they make the
most miserable husbands.”

“Aunt Mabel,” said Alick, whose thoughtful mind often led
him from the special topic of conversation into the wider field
of philosophy, “do you think a man is any more likely to forget
simple, every-day duties, because he is engaged in a great
work, and has a great object in view?”

“I think it depends altogether upon his motives, Alick,”
replied Mabel. “If he is influenced merely by selfishness and
ambition, he would probably pursue his prize at the expense of
every other claim, whether small or great; but I do not believe
that a man who is actuated by pure Christian benevolence is

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any less faithful to simple duties, because he is also striving to
benefit humanity in a larger sphere of usefulness.”

“Nobody can doubt that Mr. Percival is disinterested,” said
Alick; “he proved it when he was not much older than I am.
Did you know, Auntie, that he inherited a handsome property
from an uncle of his mother's, when he was only eighteen
years old, and that, as soon as he became of age, he insisted
upon dividing it with his half-sister, a widow, who has several
children and is lame? He took this Western property for his
share, at a very high valuation, and gave up all the rest, except
a portion which was secured to his mother for her life time.
General Percival objected very much to the arrangement, because
he feared his brother would regret it when he grew older.
But so far from that, a few years ago, when the General was
ill, and on half pay, Bayard assisted him very much in the
education of his family, and even had his daughter, Bessie,
thoroughly instructed in music.”

“Who told you this, Alick? Not Mr. Percival?” said Mabel,
at the same time pondering in her mind Dudley's insinuations
concerning the difficulty which had existed in the family
with regard to settling the estate.

“Oh, no! Uncle Harry heard of it from a gentleman whose
father was one of the trustees of the property. But I know
that it cost Mr. Percival a sacrifice; because I mentioned to
him the other morning that I had a great desire to go into one
of the territories and settle, when I got older, and he remarked,
that when he was of my age he had a strong preference for
living in New York, but that he was very glad he decided as
he did.”

“Auntie,” said Murray, who had come in while Alick was
speaking, “I wonder why grandfather cares so much about
making a great fortune. Uncle Harry says that Al and I
ought to be very thankful we have got our own living to earn,
for that money came very near being the ruin of him, and that
Mr. Percival, although he would have been a fine man anywhere,
would never have been the man he is if he had not been
obliged to exert himself.”

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“Wealth is a great temptation, and a great responsibility,”
said Mabel. “I hope, if you ever possess it, you will have first
learned how to make it truly valuable.”

A conversation now ensued with reference to the boys'
future choice of professions, in which they might hope for usefulness
and success; a not infrequent subject of discussion, but
which was, on this occasion, terminated by Mabel's remarking,
“It is getting late, boys; Aunt Sabiah looks tired, and we shall
have ample time to consider the comparative merits of the different
professions before either of you are obliged to come to a
decision. In the mean time, we will remember that the most
honorable calling for each of us, is that which we are best
capable of fulfilling. Murray, please ask Melissa for a light.
Shall we read now, Aunt Sabiah?” and rising from her low seat,
Mabel took the Bible and prayer-book from the table, and
when Murray came back with the lamp, read, according to their
evening custom, a portion of Seripture and a simple prayer,
such as she and the boys had become familiar with from long
use of their little service-book. Aunt Sabiah, who had formerly
held herself aloof from this act of social worship, now joined
in it with humble fervor; while as the sound of their united
voices penetrated to the ears of one, who, through the open
door of the adjoining room, had overheard every syllable that
fell from their lips during the evening, another aged heart
was touched, and another voice responded in an earnest Amen.

“Good night, my daughter,” said Mr. Vaughan, as Mabel
was leaving his room, after moving about with a light step to
see that everything was arranged for his comfort, shading the
lamp with her hand, lest its rays might wake the supposed

“Are you awake, father?” asked she, in some surprise.

“Yes, my child, wide awake; more so than for many a long
year. My eyes are opened at last, Mabel, to the truths to
which they have long—too long—been closed; come and kiss
me before you go to bed.” And as she stooped over him to
fulfil the unusual request, he added, “you are a good girl, my
dear—a great blessing to your old father.”

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The next evening, when one of the boys went to seek the
Bible in its customary place, it could not be found. Mabel
rose to assist in the search, and at length discovered it on the
little table beside her father's bed, with his spectacles between
its covers. Occasionally, afterwards, it was missing, and was
found in the same place; and once Mabel observed the old
man attentively reading it. He laid it down, upon perceiving
her, however, and no remark was made on either side.

At length his strength, which was only restored by slow degrees,
became so far established that he was able to leave his
room, and once more take his place at the parlor fireside. One
day, when he had been thus seated for some hours, gazing into
the fire, communing with his own thoughts and apparently
unconscious of everything around him, he suddenly lifted his
head and exclaimed to his daughter, who was the only person
present, “Mabel, bring me my charts!”

With trembling reluctance she obeyed him; though as she
placed the roll in his hand she still retained a slight hold upon it,
longing to intercede and beg him to refrain from harassing
his mind with the dreaded subject, but restrained by filial
deference from thus interfering. His manner, however, was
decisive, and she relinquished the papers, still maintaining her
place beside him, and awaiting his movements. To her astonishment,
he deliberately unrolled the outside chart, and without
hesitation tore it down the middle, and committed the
fragments to the flames; then removing the next, he dealt with
it in like manner, and so on, successively, until the whole were

Great as had been Mabel's horror of this deceitful schedule
of future fortune, she could not resist a sudden shudder and
sensation of alarm, as she thus witnessed the annihilation of
the time-worn papers, which she had learned to regard with a
species of awe. She was reassured, however, by the calm,
self-satisfied smile with which her father looked up at her,
when the work of destruction was accomplished. More completely
still was she conscious of the sanity of his purpose,
when, laying his hand upon the Bible, which rested on the

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table beside him, he said, solemnly, “Henceforward, Mabel,
this is my only chart; and the only road which shall engross
my thoughts, is that which leadeth to eternal rest. I have
striven too long after the things which perish, forgetful of those
which endure unto everlasting life. I have coveted for my
children the wealth which would have been to them but a
snare, while they, without my aid, have sought and found the
pearl of great price. Yes, Mabel, I have been strangely blind
to the welfare of my family; but God has done for me and
mine more and better than I could ask or think.”

“We are very happy, father,” said Mabel, “far more so than
when the world envied our good fortune.”

“I see it, my child; I understand it now,” said the old man,
with a serene smile. “The Lord has dealt bountifully with me;
He has given me the true riches, and made my children a
crown of glory to my aged head. Henceforth my prayer shall
be, `Show me thy ways, O Lord, teach me thy paths!' ”

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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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