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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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Oh, when she's angry, she is keen and shrewd!
She was a vixen when she went to school,
And though she be but little, she is fierce.

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As Mabel, after parting with Harry, ascended the wide
staircase leading in the direction of her sister's rooms, she
heard a loud noise, as if some one were striking the floor above
with a heavy stick. In a moment more a little figure appeared
in sight, riding upon a stout cane. He was galloping, in imitation
of the motions of a horse, and at every step the cane rattled
upon the floor behind him. At the same time he was shouting
to the imaginary steed in a voice which at least bespoke healthy
lungs. He was a beautiful child, with long curls of fair hair
hanging upon his shoulders, and his dress, though disordered
and somewhat slovenly, was gay and fanciful in the extreme.
That he was wholly unmanageable was evident from the fact
that he paid no attention to the voice of a young, tired-looking
girl, who was following and vainly calling upon him to stop.
Just as Mabel reached the top of the staircase, the girl overtook
the child, and attempted, with a restraining arm, to check,
him in his course. At this moment, and when the long passage-way
was ringing with the sudden and violent cries of the
now angry and excited boy, a door opened from a neighboring
room and a gentleman exclaimed, in a severe tone, “Really,
if you cannot keep that child still, I must complain to the landlord,—
my wife is very ill, and that boy has been troubling us
all the morning.” The poor girl looked in despair, especially
as the little horseman had, in the meantime, escaped from her
grasp, and was continuing his sport, regardless of the impatient

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voice and threatening manner in which the gentleman now
called to him, in the words—“Stop, sir!”

In the meantime, Mabel, half-smiling at the scene, kept on
her way towards her sister's apartments, which were in an
opposite direction, and passing the spacious parlor and bed-room,
paused at the door of a chamber beyond, which she knew
to be used as a nursery. She knocked slightly, but perceiving
at the same moment that the door was ajar, opened it and went
in. Directly opposite to her, seated at a high table, and with
his feet dangling from his chair, was one of the young gentlemen
whom she had come to seek. He could not have been
more than eight years of age, but as he sat with his forehead
resting on both hands, and his eyes fixed upon a book, there
was in his stooping attitude, and the grave, fixed expression of
his face, something which it was painful and unnatural to witness
in so young a child. There was but little life or animation
in his features; his complexion was dark and sallow, and
his thin fingers were thrust through his long hair in such a
manner that it fell over them in distinct and heavy locks,
shadowing and nearly concealing his otherwise high and open
brow. He did not move or change his position as Mabel
entered, but glancing at her from beneath his hand with a
wholly indifferent air, said, abruptly, “Mother's gone out;”
and then kept on with his reading.

Before Mabel had time to reply, she was roughly thrust
aside by the same little urchin whom she had seen in the entry,
and who now rushed by her into the room, still riding on the
stick, with which he made the circuit of the apartment two or
three times, drawing in his chin, and opening and shutting his
mouth, as if in the act of champing a bit. At length, as he
drew near the table of the young student, who had not hitherto
bestowed on him the least notice, he commenced a series of
caracoles, and then, bobbing his head, as if irritated by the
pressure of a tight rein, contrived to hit the book, which had
been propped in an upright position on the table, and succeeded
in throwing it on the floor. His brother, for both were in
truth Mrs. Leroy's children, received this bit of pleasantry

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with a glow of sullen anger, and stretching forth his foot from
beneath the table, bestowed a sudden kick on the unruly author
of the mischief. Mabel, still standing near the door, was an
attentive witness of the whole proceeding. Alick, the bestower
of the reprimand, perfectly aware that he was observed, cast
upon her a half-mortified, half-defiant look, which seemed to
say, “you saw! I don't care if you did;” and then stooping
down, he picked up his book and replaced it in precisely the
same position which it had occupied before.

He appeared, meanwhile, quite indifferent to the cries of the
younger child, who, although in reality but little hurt by his
brother's blow, had thrown himself upon the floor, and was
screaming and sobbing with all his might.

Shocked at Alick's rudeness, and repelled by the sullen expression
of his face, Mabel's sympathies were now wholly with
the younger boy, who, in spite of his wilful and riotous behavior,
seemed the more amiable of the two. She took him, therefore,
upon her knee, soothed his cries, and, with the view of relieving
the astonishment of the children's attendant, who looked at
her with surprise, made haste to announce her relationship.
As she said, “I am your Aunt Mabel,” Alick looked up quickly
from his book, gave her an earnest and searching glance, and
then looked down as before. Murray, however, the other,
appeared careless and unconcerned on this point, but submitted
to her caresses, allowed himself to be comforted, and upon
being permitted to search her pockets for the confectionary
which she informed him was to be found there, quite forgot his
past injuries, and became sunshiny and good humored.

Mabel could not win from him, however, any recognition of
her claims upon his love. He received her attentions and
favors as a part of the homage due to a petted child, but shook
his head when she asked him if he did not remember the many
kisses Aunt Mabel had sent him in her letters to mamma, and
the pretty toys which came in a box at Christmas. Convinced
by his manner, that her name awakened no emotion of interest
in the boy, and failing to perceive the expression of eager
scrutiny with which Alick had for an instant regarded her, she

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felt a momentary pang of disappointment, in the thought that
the children she had been so impatient to see, looked upon her
as a stranger. But her loving nature would not permit her to
be easily repulsed, and she resolved that since it rested wholly
with herself to awaken the affection of her little nephews, no
pains should be wanting on her part. So she exerted herself
most sedulously for the entertainment of the younger boy, at
the same time endeavoring to excite the attention of his silent
brother. During the half hour that Murray sat upon her
knee, the increasing interest with which he gazed into the face
of his beautiful young relative, and the eagerness with which
he listened to her playful and lively words, were sufficient evidence
of the success which seldom failed to attend her efforts
to engage the ear and win the heart of childhood. She more
than once turned from him to address a remark to Alick, but
he either gave her no reply or answered in such a sulky tone,
that she was at length deterred from any attempt to become
better acquainted with him.

In the meantime, there was still another in the room who,
although unnoticed herself, watched Mabel with no small
degree of admiration and curiosity. This was the young girl
who had the charge of the children, and whose weary-looking
face had excited Mabel's compassion as she came up the stairs.
Her's was indeed a hard task,—a task which under the most
favorable circumstances, might have worn upon the strength
and spirits of so young a girl, and which was rendered doubly
difficult, by reason of her having in Mrs. Leroy's employ several
different parties to please, any one of which it was impossible
to satisfy. Moreover, she had been delicately brought
up, and her present employment was new and irksome to her.

To have the restless Murray quiet and amused for one half
hour, to be spared the necessity of furnishing diversion for
him, and to be permitted to sit by and listen to the pleasant
words and lively sallies which were no less entertaining to
herself than to her little charge, was a pleasure the more
keenly appreciated because so rarely enjoyed; and Mabel
little knew with what a smile of satisfaction she was watched

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by another pair of eyes, beside those which beamed brightly
upon her from the face of the child. At length a sudden gust
of wind, and heavy rain drops pattering against the window,
gave Mabel the first intimation that the storm which was
threatening when she left home, had now commenced with
great severity. Imprisoned as she thus was, in the hotel, and
fearful lest her aunt would be anxious at her continued
absence, she was revolving in her mind the possibility of sending
a messenger to her father's house, when she recognized in
the neighboring passage-way the voice of Mrs. Leroy, and
the loud laugh of Mrs. Vannecker. At once conjecturing that
the storm had hastened their return, she hurried to meet her
sister, in hopes that she might be in season to detain the carriage.
But she was too late; the coachman had already driven
off. Louise gaily reproached her, however, for desiring to run
away the moment she had reached home. “To whom, pray,
was your visit intended?” asked she.

“To the children,” replied Mabel. “I have seen them at

“And how do you like them? Is n't my precious Murray a
darling little pet? and as for Alick—I hope he was in his
usual good humor?”

Her tone was sincere when she spoke of Murray, but she
turned to Mrs. Vannecker with a short laugh, as she uttered
the latter clause, and both the laugh and the tone of her voice
betrayed that the remark was made in irony.

Mabel understood the insinuation and, while she wondered
that her sister could speak lightly on so grave a matter as the
bad temper of her own child, she said to herself,—“I have
seen him then in his usual mood;—what a very disagreeable
boy he must be!”

They now bade Mrs. Vannecker good-morning, and Louise
led the way to her own apartments, Mabel following her, at
the same time requesting that some one might be sent to summon
the carriage, as, on her aunt's account, she felt the importance
of returning home at once.

But she found it impossible to resist the pressing and

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graceful manner in which Louise insisted that she should stay, at
least until after lunch, assuring her that it was the height of
folly to make herself such a slave to the whims and fears of
the old lady, who, she plainly saw, was disposed to play the
tyrant; and Mabel, too easily yielding to her sister's persuasions,
consented to remain. As they entered the drawing-room,
Murray came bounding to meet his mother, who took him in
her arms, lavished upon him many an endearing and flattering
epithet, and throwing herself upon the sofa, in an affected
and languishing attitude, permitted the indulged child to trample
at will upon her rich dress, and play with the artificial
roses that adorned her bonnet.

As Mabel looked at them, she thought she had never seen a
more interesting picture of maternal loveliness, and child-like
beauty; but the scene thus presented was as short-lived as
the effect was striking; for Louise's vanity, both on her own
account, and that of her child, being quite satisfied by this little
display of tenderness, she could not long restrain the impatience
and irritability which rendered such companionship
irksome, and after a few moments, the rash and wilful hand
of the boy having assailed the delicate lace of her collar, she
thrust it hastily aside, and abruptly lifted him from the sofa to
the floor. As she did so, he succeeded in snatching a rich
ermine mantle from her shoulders, and retreated to the other
end of the room, dragging the delicate white fur behind him
on the carpet.

Louise, who was expatiating to Mabel upon the attractions of
a dramatic performance to take place that evening at the house
of one of the leaders of fashion, seemed at first quite unconscious
of this feat on the part of the child; but in a moment
more she rose suddenly from her seat, and still continuing in
an earnest strain of conversation with Mabel, took a few steps
towards Murray, who was roughly playing with his prize, and
snatching one end of the mantle, which lay stretched upon the
carpet, endeavored to wrest it from his grasp. Her manner
was resolute, but the boy was nothing daunted. He clung to
his new toy, and by a sudden effort, extricating it from his

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mother's hands, gathered it in his arms, and escaped to the
opposite corner, casting over his shoulder a triumphant glance
at his bafiled parent. So far from following up the pursuit,
however, or uttering a word of reprimand, she appeared rather
to glory in the rebellious spirit of the child; her only comment
upon the failure of her attempt consisting in a smile of amusement
at the success with which he had asserted his independence
of control. Nor did the risk of injury to the mantle further
engage her thoughts, but, passively yielding to the little
conqueror, she resumed her seat, and continued the scarcely
interrupted strain of her discourse upon the music, dresses, and
decorations of the evening's entertainment.

Mabel, while engaging with animation upon the subject of
pleasures which had for her all the zest of novelty, scarcely
gave a thought to this little contest between parent and child,
save as she considered it a proof of that sweet softness, and
amiability of character, which forbade Louise to exercise severity,
or exact obedience. As she sat, however, in full view
of the child, who was now mounted upon a chair, acting in his
favorite capacity of an imaginary horseman, with the long ends
of the mantle serving as a bridle, she more than once had her
fears excited for the safety both of the boy, and the ermine.
A slight start on her part caused Louise, at one time, to turn
her head in that direction, but, dreading a stormy altercation
with the little rebel, she closed her eyes to the possibility of
the mischief that might ensue, and, with a languid smile, permitted
him to continue his sport. At length, a sudden jerk on
Murray's part, and the mantle, which towards the end was
narrow and slender, became rent, and gave way, precipitating
the child to the floor, the fragment of the torn fur still grasped
tightly in his hand.

Mabel sprung to his assistance, for, although his fall was not
heavy, or from a great height, he uttered a succession of piereing
shrieks, and the feared he might be seriously hurt. Louise
started at the same moment, but Mabel had lifted the boy to
his feet before his mother reached the spot. The eager question
of the former, “are you hurt, darling?” was scarcely

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answered, and he still continued sobbing, when Louise caught
sight of the torn fur, which she angrily snatched from his
hand. Alas! now, for that softness of manner of which many
beside Mabel had often experienced the charm! It vanished
in an instant. The subdued voice of Louise was changed to
loud tones of reproach; words of sudden anger took the place
of her usual languid accents, and the little hand, so perfect in
contour, so graceful in gesture, now gave added force to her
words, as she inflicted with it a sudden blow upon Murray's
offending palm. But the urchin was no unresisting
victim of her displeasure; he boldly maintained his defence,
and Mabel became the witness of a violent and noisy struggle,
which ended in Mrs. Leroy's forcibly expelling the child from
the room, amid a succession of kicks, screams, and threats, which
would, probably, have alarmed the household, had not such
outbursts been a matter of almost daily-occurrence. Grieved
and shocked at the scene, Mabel expected to see her sister
still more painfully affected by so unnatural a conflict. But,
on the contrary, Louise turned to her with a smile, and on observing
her half-embarrassed, half-distressed expression, laughed

“I am afraid he is hurt,” suggested Mabel, “he cried so
loud when he first fell.”

“Oh, no,” answered Louise, in a careless tone, “he always
cries so;” and she proceeded to the examination of her mantle,
fitting the piece in her hand into the place from which it was
torn, and saying “what a shame! I wonder if I can get it
mended at Lefarge's?”

So intent was she in considering the best mode of repairing
the damage, that for several minutes she took no notice of Mabel,
who gradually recovered from her surprise at the contradictions
in her sister's temper, especially as she found that this
little outbreak of maternal indignation exercised no lasting
check upon the merriment of the child, whom she soon heard
in the neighboring nursery, engaged in happy play.

Two or three hours had elapsed, the season of lunch was
long passed, and Mabel's conscience beginning once more to

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reproach her for this continued stay, she had persuaded Louise to
send for a carriage. It had not yet arrived, and she was somewhat
impatiently awaiting it, when a loud cry was raised in
the nursery, and a moment after, Murray came screaming into
the room, evidently in some new distress, and, quite forgetful
of past difficulties, running to his mother for sympathy. She
opened her arms to receive him, begged to know what was the
matter with her sweet pet, and with many tender and exaggerated
expressions of solicitude, promised that whoever had
harmed him should be punished.

Alick had harmed him, had pushed and kicked him, and
both he and Lydia had called him ugly names.

“I called him no ugly names,” exclaimed the tired-looking
young nurse, appearing at the door, her face, at first pale, becoming
quite red as she observed the presence of Mabel.

“Be quiet!” said Mrs. Leroy, in an imperative voice to the
girl; and going to the open door of the nursery, she demanded
of Alick, in a severe tone, what new injury he had been doing
his brother, adding, in the same breath, “I know you are
always rude to him.”

“He's rude to me,” was the boy's surly reply.

His mother, unsparing of words and threats, continued to
reprove him, but he made no further apology, receiving her
rebukes with indifference, not to say inattention, and deigning
no answers to her inquiries into his behavior. He found an
advocate, however, in Lydia, who commenced at once, “Alick
was not to blame, Mrs. Leroy,—”

“You need not tell me that, Lydia,” replied her mistress,
“I know who is always to blame in these quarrels.”

“He called me names,” muttered Murray, “he did. He said
I was a beggar!”

“I didn't!” retorted Alick, speaking bluntly, and between
his teeth.

“No ma'am,” exclaimed Lydia, earnestly. “I was telling
them what a good little sister I had at home; Alick said he
should like to see her, ma'am, and I promised to take him
there, if you had no objections. It was Murray himself who

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spoke of beggars. I'm sure Rosy is no beggar, and if my
mother isn't rich, she is very respectable.”

“I said I didn't want to go and see any beggar girls, and no
I don't!” said Murray, “and then Alick said I wasn't any
better than a beggar myself. I am, aint I, mother?”

“Certainly, my dear. Alick you are a bad boy to talk so
to your brother,—and, Lydia, don't let me hear any more of
this. Of course, you are not to take either of the boys to any
low places. The children you are used to may be good children,
and they may not, but, at all events, they are not fit
company for my children.”

“Indeed, Mrs. Leroy,” exclaimed Lydia, her face becoming
suffused with the deepest crimson, her eye flashing angrily, but
the trembling of her lip, at the same time, giving evidence of
an emotion deeper than wounded pride,—“indeed, ma'am, I
only wish you could see such children as I am used to; there's
some among 'em that might teach a lesson even to a lady.”

If there was incivility in this remark from a young girl to
her mistress, it was almost lost sight of by Mabel, who was
struck by the deep earnestness and feeling with which it was
spoken. Not so with Louise. She viewed the girl's words
merely as an outbreak of impertinence, and passed judgment
upon them accordingly. It would have been well for her dignity,
if she could have so far commanded her temper as to
speak Lydia's dismissal with calmness. But this was not the
case. In the violent and abusive language with which she assailed
her for forgettulness of place, and neglect of the respect
due to her superiors, she more than forfeited her own position
as a lady, nor could Mabel fee! otherwise than shocked at the
harshness with which she assured the poor girl that she had
forfeited her month's wages, at the same time forbidding her
to leave her service until a new nurse was provided.

It was some consolation to perceive that these fits of temper
were as transient as they were severe. As Louise closed
the nursery door upon Lydia, she seemed to exhaust her displeasure
in the words, “there, I have done with her;—now
I shall have the trouble of finding another nurse for those

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children,—little plagues;” and the next moment she addressed
some light remark to Mabel on the subject of her
dress for the approaching evening,—adding, “I will go this
minute and borrow Mrs. Vannecker's ear-rings, to try if coral
is becoming to me!”

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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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