Family Pride Or Purified by Suffering Part 55

CHAPTER LV.

THE WEDDING.

Many times Aunt Betsy had hobbled to the door, and shading her eyes with her hand, had looked wistfully up the hill in quest of Mark and Helen, wondering why they stayed out so long, when they must know the sun was nearly down, and wondering next if Morris would never go home about his business and give Katy a chance to dress.

Poor, worried, unfortunate Aunt Betsy! her foot was very lame, and her arm was badly bruised; but she bandaged it up in camphor and sugar, wincing at the terrible smart when the wash was at first applied, but saying to Morris, who asked if it did not hurt cruelly: "Yes, it hurts some, but nothin' to what the poor soldiers is hurt; and I wouldn't mind it an atom if I hadn't broke the dish with the heathenish name."

And, indeed, the loss of the charlotte russe did weigh heavily on Aunt Betsy's mind, proving the straw too many, and only Bell Cameron, who, with Lieutenant Bob, had come on the same train with Mark and Mrs.

Banker, had power to rea.s.sure her by telling her that charlotte russe was not essential at all; that, for her part, she was glad to have it out of sight, as it was her especial detestation. This comforted Aunt Betsy, who had made many of her preparations for the wedding with a direct reference to the "city folks" so confidently expected. The substantials were for the neighbors--those who would have no supper at home, but reserve their appet.i.tes for the wedding viands; while the delicacies, the knickknacks, were designed exclusively for "them stuck-up critters, the Camerons," not one of whom, it now seemed, would be present except Bell. Father Cameron was not able to come; he would gladly have done so if he could, and he sent his blessing to Katy, with the wish that she might be very happy in her second married life. This message Bell gave to Katy, and then tried to form some reasonable excuse for her mother's and Juno's absence, for she could not tell how haughtily both had declined the invitation, Juno finding fault because Katy had not waited longer than two years, and Mrs. Cameron blaming her for being so very vulgar as to be married at home, instead of in church, where she ought to be. On this point Katy herself had been a little disquieted, feeling how much more appropriate it was that she be married in the church, but shrinking from standing again a bride at the same altar where she had once before been made a wife. She could not do it, she finally decided; there would be too many harrowing memories crowding upon her mind, and as Morris did not particularly care where the ceremony was performed, provided he got Katy at the last, it was settled that it should be at the house, even though Mrs. Deacon Bannister did say that she had supposed Dr. Grant too High Church to do anything as Presbyterianny as that.

Bell's arrival at the farmhouse was timely, for the unexpected appearance in their midst of one whom they looked upon as surely dead had stunned and bewildered the family to such an extent that it needed the presence of just such a matter-of-fact, self-possessed woman as Bell to bring things back to their original shape. It was wonderful how the city girl fitted into the vacant niches, seeing to everything which needed seeing to, and still finding time to steal away alone with Lieutenant Bob, who kept her in a painful state of blushing by constantly wishing it was his bridal night as well as Dr. Grant's, and by inveighing against the weeks which must still intervene ere the day appointed for the grand ceremony to take place in Grace Church, and which was to make Bell his wife.

"Ain't Morris ever goin' home? He won't be dressed in time, as sure as the world, if he stays here much longer," Aunt Betsy said a dozen times, until at last her patience was exhausted, and going boldly in where he was, she bade him start in at once, or he would not have time to put on his best coat and jacket, let alone Katy's changin' her clothes.

Thus importuned, Morris quitted the house, just as Mark and Helen came slowly up, their faces happier, if possible, than his own, and telling of the great joy which had succeeded their dark night of sorrow.

"Come in here, Helen, I have something to show you," Mrs. Banker said, after she had again embraced and wept over her long-lost son, whose return was not quite real yet, and leading her daughter-in-law to her bedroom, she showed her the elegant white silk which had been made for her just after her marriage, two years before, and which with careful forethought she had brought with her, as more suitable now for the wedding than Helen's mourning weeds.

"I made the most of my time last night after receiving Mark's telegram, and had it modernized somewhat," she said. "And I brought your pearls, for you know you will be most as much a bride as Katy, and I have a pride in seeing my son's wife appropriately dressed."

Far different were Helen's feelings now, as she donned the elegant dress, from what they had been the first and only time she wore it. Then the bridegroom was where danger and death lay thickly around his pathway, but now he was at her side, kissing her cheek where the roses were burning so brightly, and calling still deeper blushes to her face by his teasing observations and humorous ridicule of his own personal appearance. Would she not feel ashamed of him, in his soiled, faded uniform? And would she not cast longing glances at her handsome brother-in-law and the stylish Lieutenant Bob? But Helen was proud of her husband's uniform, as a badge of what he had suffered, and when the folds of her rich dress swept against it, she did not draw them away, but nestled closer to him, leaning upon his shoulder, and when no one was near, winding her soft arms about his neck, whispering: "My darling Mark, I cannot make it real yet."

Softly the night shadows fell around the farmhouse, and in the rooms below a rather mixed group was a.s.sembled--all the _elite_ of the town, with many of Aunt Betsy's neighbors, and the doctor's patients, who had come to see their loved physician married, rejoicing in his happiness, and glad that the mistress of Linwood was not to be a stranger, but the young girl who had grown up in their midst, and who, by suffering and sorrow, had been molded into a n.o.ble woman, worthy of Dr. Grant. She was ready now for her second bridal, and she looked like some pure waxen figure in her dress of white, with no vestige of color in her face, and her great blue eyes shining with a brilliancy which made them almost black. Occasionally, as her thoughts leaped backward over a period of almost six years, a tear trembled on her long eyelashes, but Morris, as often as he saw it, kissed it away, asking if she were sorry.

"Oh, no, not sorry that I am to be your wife," she answered; "but it is not possible that I should forget entirely the roughness of the road which has led me to you."

"They are waiting for you," was said several times ere the parties waited for were quite ready to go; but everything was done at last, and slowly down the stairs pa.s.sed Mark Ray and Helen, Lieutenant Bob and Bell, with Dr. Grant and Katy, whose face, as she stood again before the clergyman and spoke her marriage vows, shone with a strange, peaceful light, which made it seem to those who gazed upon her like the face of some pure angel.

There was no thought then of that deathbed in Georgetown--no thought of Greenwood, or the little grave in Silverton, where the crocuses and hyacinths were blossoming--no thought of anything save the man at her side, whose voice was so full and earnest, as it made the responses, and who gently pressed the little hand as he fitted the wedding ring. It was over at last, and Katy was Morris' wife, blushing now as they called her Mrs. Grant, and putting up her rosebud lips to be kissed by all who claimed that privilege. Helen, too, came in for her share of attention, and the opinion of the guests as to the beauty of the respective brides, as they were termed, was pretty equally divided; both were beautiful, and both bore traces of the suffering and suspense which had purified and made them better.

In heavy, rustling silk, which actually trailed an inch, and cap of real lace, Aunt Betsy hobbled among the crowd, her face aglow with the satisfaction she felt at seeing her nieces so much admired and appreciated, and her heart so full of good will and toleration that after the supper was over, and she fancied a few of the younger ones were beginning to feel tired, she suggested to Bell that she might start a dance if she had a mind to, either in the kitchen or parlor, it did not matter where, and "Ephraim would not care an atom," a remark which brought from Mrs. Deacon Bannister a most withering look of reproach, and slightly endangered Aunt Betsy's standing in the church. Perhaps Bell Cameron suspected as much, for she replied that they were having a splendid time as it was, and as Dr. Grant did not dance, they might as well dispense with it altogether. And so it happened that there was no dancing at Katy's wedding, and Uncle Ephraim escaped the reproof which his brother deacon would have felt called upon to give him had he permitted so grievous a sin, while Mrs. Deacon Bannister, who, at the first trip of the toe, would have felt it her duty to depart, lest her eyes should look upon the evil thing, was thus permitted to remain until "it was out," and the guests retired _en ma.s.se_ to their respective homes.

The carriage from Linwood stood at the farmhouse door, and Katy, wrapped in shawls and hood, was ready to go with her husband to the home where she knew so much of rest and quiet awaited her. There were no tears shed at this parting, for their darling was not going far away; her new home was just across the fields, and through the soft moonlight they could see its chimney tops, and trace for some little distance the road over which the carriage went, bearing her swiftly on, her hands fast locked in Morris', her head upon his arm, and the hearts of both too full of bliss for either to speak a word until Linwood was reached, when, folding Katy to his bosom in a pa.s.sionate embrace, Morris said to her:

"We are home at last--your home and mine, my precious, precious wife."

The village clock was striking one, and the sound echoed across the waters of Fairy Pond, awakening, in his marshy bed, a sleeping frog, who sent forth upon the warm, still air a musical, plaintive note as Morris bore his bride over the threshold and into the library, where on the hearth a cheerful fire was blazing. He had ordered it kindled there, for he had a fancy ere he slept to see fulfilled the dream he had dreamed so often, of Katy sitting in the chair across the hearth, where he placed her now, himself removing her shawl and hood, then kneeling down before her, with his arm around her waist and his head upon her shoulder, he prayed aloud to the G.o.d who had brought her there, asking His blessing upon their future life, and dedicating himself and all he had to his Master's service. It is such prayer which G.o.d delights to answer; and a peace, deeper than they had yet known, fell upon that newly-married pair at Linwood.

CHAPTER LVI.

CONCLUSION.

The scene shifts now to New York, where, one week after that wedding in Silverton, Mark and Helen were, and where, too, were Morris and Katy.

But not on Madison Square. That house had been sold, and Katy had seen it but once, her tears falling fast as driving slowly by with Morris she gazed at the closed doors and windows of what was once her home, and around which lingered no pleasant memories save that it was the birthplace of Baby Cameron. Once Lieutenant Reynolds had thought to buy it, but Bell said: "No, it would not be quite pleasant for Katy to visit me there, and I mean to have her with me as much as possible," so the house went to strangers, and a less pretentious, but quite as comfortable, one was bought for Bell, so far uptown that Mrs. Cameron p.r.o.nounced it quite in the country, while Juno wondered how her sister would manage to exist so far from everything, intimating that her visits would be far between, a threat which Lieutenant Bob took quite heroically; indeed, it rather enhanced the value of his pleasant home than otherwise, for Juno was not a favorite, and his equanimity was not likely to be disturbed if she never crossed his threshold. She was throwing bait to Arthur Grey, the man who swore he was forty-five to escape the draft, and who, now that the danger was over, would gladly take back his oath and be forty, as he really was. With the most freezing kiss imaginable, Juno had greeted Katy, calling her "Mrs.

Grant," and treating Morris as if he were an entire stranger, instead of the man whom to get she would once have moved both earth and heaven.

Mrs. Cameron, too, though glad in her heart that Katy was married, and fully approving of her choice, threw into her manner so much reserve that Katy's intercourse with her was anything but agreeable, and she turned with alacrity to Father Cameron, who had received her with open arms, calling her his daughter, and welcoming Morris as his son, taken in Wilford's stead. "My boy," he frequently called him, showing by his manner how willingly he accepted him as the husband of one whom he really loved as his child. Greatly he wished that they should stay with him while they remained in New York, but Katy preferred going with Helen to Mrs. Banker's, where she would be more quiet, and avoid the bustle and confusion attending the preparations for Bell's wedding. It was to be a grand church affair, and to take place during Easter week, after which the bridal pair were going on to Washington, Fortress Monroe, and, if possible, to Richmond, where Bob had been a prisoner. Everything seemed conspiring to make the occasion a joyful one, for all through the North, from Maine to California, the air was rife with the jubilee songs of victory, and the notes of approaching peace. But, alas! He who holds our country's destiny in His hand changed that song of gladness into a wail of woe, which, echoing through the land, rose up to Heaven in one mighty sob of anguish, as the whole nation bemoaned its loss. Our President was dead!--foully, cruelly murdered!--and New York was in mourning, so black, so profound, that with a shudder Bell Cameron tossed aside the orange wreath and said to her lover: "We will be married at home. I cannot now go to the church, when everything seems so like one great funeral."

And so in Mrs. Cameron's drawing-room there was a quiet wedding one pleasant April morning, and Bell's plain traveling dress was far more in keeping with the gloom which hung over the great city than her gala robes would have been, with a long array of carriages and merry wedding chimes. Westward they went, instead of South, and when our late lamented President was borne back to the prairie of Illinois, they were there to greet the n.o.ble dead, and mingle their tears with those who knew and loved him long before the world appreciated his worth.

Softly the May rain falls on Linwood, where the fresh green gra.s.s is springing and the early spring flowers blooming, and where Katy, fairest flower of all, stands for a moment in the deep bay window of the library, listening dreamily to the patter on the tin roof overhead, and gazing wistfully down the road, as if watching for some one, then turning, she enters the dining-room and inspects the supper table, shining with silver, and laid for six, for her mother, Aunt Hannah and Aunt Betsy are visiting her this rainy afternoon, while Morris, on his return from North Silverton, where he has gone to see a patient, is to call for Uncle Ephraim, who, in clean linen, checked gingham neck handkerchief and the swallow-tailed coat which has served him for so many years, sits waiting at home, with one kitten in his lap and another on his shoulder.

Linwood is a nice place to visit, and the old ladies enjoy it vastly, especially Aunt Betsy, who never tires of telling what they have "over to Katy's," and whose capeless shaker hangs often on the hall stand, just as it hangs now, while she, good soul, sits in the pleasant parlor, near the blazing fire, and darns the socks for Morris, taking as much pains as if it were a network of fine lace she was weaving, instead of a shocking rent in some luckless heel or toe. Upstairs there is a pleasant room which Katy calls Aunt Betsy's, and in it is the feather bed on which Wilford Cameron once slept, a part of Katy's "setting out," which never found its way to Madison Square. Morris himself did not think much of feathers, but he made no objection when Aunt Betsy insisted on sending over the bed kept for so many years, and only smiled a droll kind of smile when he one morning met it coming up the walk in the wheelbarrow which Uncle Ephraim trundled.

Morris and his young wife were very happy together, and Katy found the hours of his absence very long, especially when she was left alone. Even to-day, with her aunts and mother, the time drags heavily, and she looks more than once from the bay window, until at last Brownie's head is seen over the hill, and a few moments after Morris' arm is around her shoulders, and her lips are upturned for the kiss he gives as he leads her into the house out of the chill, damp air, chiding her gently for exposing herself to the rain, and placing in her hand three letters, which she does not open until the cozy tea is over and her family friends have gone. Then, while her husband looks over his evening paper, she breaks the seals, one by one, reading first the letter from "Mrs.

Bob Reynolds," who has returned from the West, and who is in the full glory of her bridal calls.

"I was never so happy in my life as I am now," she wrote. "Indeed, I did not know that a married woman could be so happy; but then every woman has not a Bob for her husband, which makes a vast difference. You ought to see Juno. I know she envies me, though she affects the utmost contempt for matrimony, and reminds me forcibly of the fox and the grapes. You see, Arthur Grey is a failure, so far as Juno is concerned, he having withdrawn from the field and laid himself, with his forty-five years, at the feet of Sybil Grandon, who will be Mrs. Grey, and a bride at Saratoga the coming summer. Juno, I believe, intends going, too, as the bridesmaid of the party; but every year her chances lessen, and I have very little hope that father will ever call other than Bob his son, always excepting Morris, of course, whom he really has adopted in place of Wilford. You don't know, Katy, how much father thinks of you, blessing the day which brought you to us, and saying that if he is ever saved, he shall in a great measure owe it to your sweet influence and consistent life after the great trouble came upon you."

There were tears in Katy's eyes as she read this letter from Bell, and with a mental prayer of thanksgiving that she had been of any use in guiding even one to the Shepherd's fold, she took next the letter whose superscription made her tremble for a moment and turn faint, it brought back so vividly to her mind the daisy-covered grave in Alnwick, whose headstone bore Genevra Lambert's name. Marian, who was now at Annapolis, caring for the returned prisoners, did not write often, and her letters were prized the more by Katy, who read with a heating heart the kind congratulations upon her recent marriage, sent by Marian Hazelton.

"I knew how it would end, even when you were in Georgetown," she wrote, "and I am glad that it is so, praying daily that you may be as happy with Dr. Grant as to remember the sad past only as some dream from which you have awakened. I thank you for your invitation to visit Linwood, and when my work is over I may come for a few weeks and rest in your bird's nest of a home. Thank G.o.d the war is ended; but my boys need me yet, and until the last crutch has left the hospital, and the last worn figure gone, I shall stay where duty lies. What my life will henceforth be I do not know, but I have sometimes thought that with the ample funds you so generously bestowed upon me, I shall open a school for orphan children, taking charge myself, and so doing some good. Will you be the lady patroness, and occasionally enliven us with the light of your countenance? I have left the hospital but once since you were here, and then I went to Wilford's grave. Forgive me, Katy, if I did wrong in wishing to kneel once upon the sod which covered him. I prayed for you while there, remembering only that you had been his wife. In a little box where no eyes but mine ever look, there is a bunch of flowers plucked from Wilford's grave. They are faded now and withered, but something of their sweet perfume lingers still; and I prize them as my greatest treasure, for, except the lock of raven hair severed from his head, they are all that is remaining to me of the past, which now seems so far away. It is time to make my nightly round of visits, so I must bid you good-by. The Lord lift up the light of His countenance upon you, and be with you forever.

"MARIAN HAZELTON."

For a long time Katy held this letter in her hand, wondering if the sorrowful woman whose life was once so strangely blended with that of Marian Hazelton and the pale occupant of that grave at Greenwood, whence the flowers came, could be the Katy Grant who sat by the evening fire at Linwood, with no shadow on her brow, and only the sunshine of perfect happiness resting on her heart. "Truly, He doeth all things well to those who wait upon Him," she thought, as she laid down Marian's letter and took up the third and last, Helen's letter, dated at Fortress Monroe, whither with Mark Ray she had gone just after Bell Cameron's bridal.

"You cannot imagine," she wrote, "the feelings of awe and even terror which steal over me the nearer I get to the seat of war, and the more I realize the b.l.o.o.d.y strife we have been engaged in, and which, thank G.o.d, has now so nearly ceased. You have heard of John Jennings, the n.o.ble man who saved my dear husband's life, and of Aunt Bab, who helped in the good work? Both are here. It seems that suspicion was aroused against them at last, and Bab was cruelly whipped to make her confess where a Union prisoner was hidden; but, though the blows cut deep into her back, bringing the blood at every stroke, she never uttered a word; and with her wounds all smarting as they were, she helped the poor boy off, and then with her master, John Jennings, started for the North. I never saw Mark more pleased than when seized around the neck by two long, brawny arms, while a cheery voice called out: 'h.e.l.lo, old chap, has you done forgot John Jennin's?' I verily believe Mark cried, and I know I did, especially when old Bab came up and shook 'young misses' hand.' I kissed her, Katy--all black, and rough, and uncouth as she was. I kissed her more than once, and felt honored in doing so. Poor Bab! her back is still a piteous sight, and I dress it every day, shuddering at the sight, and thanking G.o.d that slavery, with all its horrors, is at an end. I wish you could see how grateful the old creature is for every act of kindness. She says 'the very feel of misses' soft, white hands makes her old back better,' and she praises me continually to Mark, who is just foolish enough to believe all she says. When we come home again, both John and Bab will come with us, though what we shall do with John is more than I can tell. Mark says he shall employ him about the office, and this I know will delight Tom Tubbs, who has again made friends with Chitty, and who will almost worship John as having saved Mark's life.

Aunt Bab shall have an honored seat by the kitchen fire, and a pleasant room all to herself, working only when she likes, and doing as she pleases.

"Did I tell you that Mattie Tubbs was to be my seamstress? I am getting together a curious household, you will say; but I like to have those about me to whom I can do the greatest amount of good, and as I happen to know how much Mattie admires 'the Lennox girls,' I did not hesitate to take her, even though Mark did ask if I intended bringing her into the parlor to help entertain my company. Mark is a saucy, teasing fellow, and I see more and more how he kept up that dreadful Andersonville while so many of his comrades died. Dear Mark! can I ever be grateful enough to G.o.d for bringing him home?

"We stopped at Annapolis on our way here, and I shall never forget the pale, worn faces, or the great, sunken eyes which looked at me so wistfully as I went from cot to cot, speaking words of cheer to the sufferers, some of whom were Mark's companions in prison, their dim eyes lighting up with joy as they recognized him and heard of his escape.

There are several nurses here, but no words of mine can tell what one of them is to the poor fellows, or how eagerly they watch for her coming, following her with so greedy glances as he moves about the room, and holding her hand with a clasp, as if they would keep her with them always. Indeed, more than one heart, as I am told, has confessed its allegiance to her; but she answers all the same: 'I have no love to give. It died out long ago, and cannot be recalled.' Yon can guess who she is, Katy. The soldiers call her an angel, but we know her as Marian."

There were great tear-blots upon that letter as Katy put it aside, and nestling close to Morris, laid her head upon his knee, where his hand could smooth her golden curls, while she gazed long and earnestly into the fire, musing upon Helen's closing words, and thinking how much they expressed, and how just a tribute they were to the n.o.ble woman whose life had been one constant sacrifice of self for another's good--"The soldiers call her an angel, but we know her as Marian."

THE END.

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