"Aunt Barbara is here," Andy said, and then, with the same frightened, anxious look her face had so often worn during her illness, Ethie said: "Somebody else has sat by me and held my head and hands, and kissed me!
Andy, tell me--was that Richard?--and did he kiss me, and is he glad to find me?"
She was gazing fixedly at Andy, who replied: "Yes, d.i.c.k is here. He's glad to have you back. He's kissed you more than forty times. He don't remember nothing.''
"And the divorce, Andy--is the story true, and am I not his wife?"
"I never heard of no divorce, only what you said about one in your tantrums. d.i.c.k would as soon have cut off his head as got such a thing,"
Ethelyn knew she could rely on what Andy said, and a heartfelt "Thank G.o.d! It is more than I deserve!" fell from her lips, just as a step was heard in the hall.
"That's d.i.c.k,--he's coming," Andy whispered, and hastily withdrawing he left the two alone together.
It was more than an hour before even Aunt Barbara ventured into the room, and when she did she knew by the joy written on Richard's face and the deep peace shining in Ethie's eyes that the reconciliation had been complete and perfect. Every error had been confessed, every fault forgiven, and the husband and wife stood ready now to begin the world anew, with perfect love for and confidence in each other. Ethie had acknowledged all her faults, the greatest of which was the giving her hand to one from whom she withheld her heart.
"But you have that now," she said. "I can truly say that I love you far betten than ever frank Van Buren was loved, and I know you to be worthy, too. I have been so wicked, Richard,--so wilful and impatient,--that I wonder you have not learned to hate my very name. I may be wilful still.
My old hot temper is not all subdued, though I hope I am a better woman than I used to be when I cared for nothing but myself. G.o.d has been so good to me who have forgotten Him so long; but we will serve Him together now."
As Ethie talked she had nestled closer and closer to her husband, whose arms encircled her form and whose face bent itself down to hers, while a rain of tears fell upon her hair and forehead as the strong man,--the grave Judge and the honored Governor,--confessed where he, too, had been in fault, and craving his young wife's pardon, ascribed also to G.o.d the praise for bringing them both to feel their dependence on Him, as well as to see this day, the happiest of their lives.
Gradually, as she could bear it, the family came in one by one to see her, Mrs. Markham, Sen., waiting till the very last, and refusing to go until Ethelyn had expressed a wish to see her.
"I was pretty hard on her, I s'pose, and it would not be strange if she laid it up against me," she said to Melinda; but Ethie had nothing against her now.
The deep waters through which she had pa.s.sed had obliterated all traces of bitterness toward anyone, and when her mother-in-law came in she feebly extended her hand and whispered: "I'm too tired, mother, to talk much, but kiss me once for the sake of what we are going to be to each other."
Mrs. Markham was not naturally a bad or a hard woman, either. She was only unfortunate that her ideas had run in one rut so long without any jolt to throw them out. Circ.u.mstances had greatly softened her, and Ethie's words touched her deeply.
"I was mighty mean to you sometimes, Ethelyn, and I've been sorry for it," she said, as she stooped to kiss her daughter-in-law, and then hurried from the room, "Only to think, she called me mother," she said to Melinda, to whom she reported the particulars of her interview with Ethelyn--"me, who had been meaner than dirt to her--called me mother, when I used to mistrust her she didn't think any more of me than if I'd been an old squaw. I shan't forget it right away."
Perhaps the sweetest, most joyful tears Ethelyn shed that day were those which came to her eyes when they brought her Ethelyn, her namesake, the little three-year-old, who pushed her brown curls back from her baby face with such a womanly air, and said:
"I'se glad to see Aunt Ethie. I prays for her ever' night. Uncle Andy told me so. I loves you, Aunt Ethie."
She was a beautiful little creature, and her innocent prattle and engaging manners did much toward bringing the color back to Ethie's cheeks and the brightness to her eyes. Those days of convalescence were blissful ones, for now there was no shadow of a cloud resting on the domestic horizon. Between husband and wife there was perfect love, and in his newly born happiness, Richard forgot the ailments which had sent him an invalid to Clifton, while Ethie, surrounded by every luxury which love could devise or money procure, and made each hour to feel how dear she was to those from whom she had been so long estranged, grew fresh, and young, and pretty again; so that when, early in December, Mrs. Dr.
Van Buren came to Davenport to see her niece, she found her more beautiful far than she had been in her early girlhood, when the boyish Frank had paid his court to her. Poor little Nettie was dead. Her life had literally been worried out of her; and during those September days, when Ethelyn was watched and tended so carefully, she had turned herself wearily upon her pillow, and just as the clock was striking the hour of midnight, asked of the attendant:
"Has Frank come yet?"
"Not yet. Do you want anything?"
"No, nothing. Is mother here?"
"She was tired out, and has gone to her room to rest. Shall I call her?"
"No, no matter. Is Ethie in her crib? Please bring her here. Never mind if you do wake her. 'Tis the last time."
And so the little sleeping child was brought to the dying mother, who would fain feel that something she had loved was near her in the last hour of loneliness and anguish she would ever know. Sorrow, disappointment, and cruel neglect had been her lot ever since she became a wife, but at the last these had purified and made her better, and led her to the Saviour's feet, where she laid the little child she held so closely to her bosom, dropping her tears upon its face and pressing her farewell kiss upon its lips. Then she put it from her, and bidding the servant remove the light, which made her eyes ache so, turned again upon her pillow, and folding her little, white, wasted hands upon her bosom, said softly the prayer the Saviour taught, and then glided as softly down the river whose tide is never backward toward the sh.o.r.es of time.
About one Frank came home from the young men's a.s.sociation which he attended so often, his head fuller of champagne and brandy than it was of sense, and every good feeling blunted with dissipation. But the Nettie whose pale face had been to him so constant a reproach was gone forever, and only the lifeless form was left of what he once called his wife. She was buried in Mount Auburn, and they made her a grander funeral than they had given to her first-born, and then the household want on the same as ever until Mrs. Van Buren conceived the idea of visiting her niece, Mrs. Gov. Markham, and taking her grandchild with her. For the sake of the name she was sure the little girl would be welcome, as well as for the sake of the dead mother. And she was welcome, more so even than the stately aunt, whose deep mourning robes seemed to throw a kind of shadowy gloom over the house which she found so handsome, and elegant, and perfectly kept that she would willingly have spent the entire winter there. She was not invited to do this, and some time in January she went back to her home, looking out on Boston Common, but not until she had eaten a Christmas dinner with Mrs.
Markham, senior, at whose house the whole family were a.s.sembled on that occasion.
There was much good cheer and merriment there, and Ethie, in her rich crimson silk which Richard had surprised her with, was the queen of all, her wishes deferred to, and her tastes consulted with a delicacy and deference which no one could fail to observe. And Eunice Plympton was there, too, waiting upon the table with Andy, who insisted upon standing at the back of Ethie's chair, just as he had seen the waiters do in Camden, and would have his mother ring the silver bell when anything was wanted. It was a happy family reunion, and a meet harbinger of the peaceful days in store for our heroine--days which came and went so fast, until winter melted into spring, and the spring budded into blushing summer, and the summer faded into the golden autumn, and the autumn floated with feathery snowflakes into the chilly winter and December came again, bringing another meeting of the Markhams. But this time it was at the governor's house in Davenport, and another was added to the number--a pretty little waxen thing, which all through the elaborate dinner slept quietly in its crib, and then in the evening, when the gas was lighted in the parlors, and Mr. Townsend was there in his gown, behaved most admirably, and lay very still in its father Richard's arms, until it was transferred from his to those of the clergyman, who in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost baptized it "Daisy Adelaide Grant."
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