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“No-oh no, papa! I am sad. Something like a vague presentiment of coming grief oppresses me.”
“Evidently you need a change of air, child. You have been too long quiet in this old place, pursuing your multitudinous fancies, whims, and duties. The bracing air of that ocean-bound city will renew your spirits."
"Ah! and Albertine has been ill, and may only need a little tender care—a little affectionate cheering. Well, I shall go very dutifully, and with cordial good will."
I strove to be very brave, but, nevertheless, I could have chosen that my visit with this friend, should have been otherwise.
I was never as happy with “ Hal” in her home, as with her in mine. With me, at Glenelvan, we had so many congenial occupations, varied amusements,—my own especial duties, in which she, too, took great interest-walks amid fallen leaves, or springing flowers--along the travel-worn highway, or by the side of the stilly-flowing water.
With me, she was dear, gentle, praised, petted, and petu lant “Hal.” But with her, in her house ! she was Mrs. Bovie—with all her cares and duties, and something beside, which I could not well define. I was never kindly disposed toward mysteries !!
PUNCTUALLY then, on the appointed day, at half-past four, I ascended the stone steps of No.- 45th street, and rang the bell.
A nut-brown maid slowly responded to my call by opening the door, and to my question, with
“Yes, ma-am, Mrs. Bovie is at home-please to walk in."
I was but just seated on the sofa when “Hal” came in. She greeted me as she sank down by my side, and said
“Oh ! I have been so disappointed in not being able to spend these lovely autumn days with you in the country. All the dear people I have ever spoken to, have been, or are visiting at our house. I have been very sick, and when convalescent, I had not a moment I could call my own; and I am so tired—tired to death !”
The tears had been standing in her mellow brown eyes, and now suffused her thin and waxen cheeks. So taking her pale forehead between my hands, I said
“Now, 'Hal, my dear, this will never do. Your poor little head is aching already; the blood around your temples at boiling heat. I have come to stay a long time; we'll talk over our troubles more at our leisure, and to our hearts' content."
“But these fourteenth cousins, Minnie, I have six of them here now. They will bore you to death, and I shall not see you a minute ; and my girl is a mere clod, for Bridget has sprained her ankle, and is gone to her sister's."
“Oh, then she will be soon back again. Take heart, my pet. I'll help you do the honors of the house, and play the agreeable-quite a novelty for me. And while you get a
little 'forenoon nap,' I'll step into the kitchen, and — Oh, never fear for me. And then, my dear, next week- "
“Oh, yes—if we can live until then !" she broke in, with a faint smile, but quickly added
“Oh, I am so glad you are here. I just begin to feel conscious of the delightful fact. Now give me your hat and cloak.”
“Not a bit of it-you shall be no lady's maid to me. But if it won't tire you, come up into your own room with me, and show me what you have been about this long, long, long time (going up stairs). And this lovely room I am to share with you ? Nice, isn't it? but I shall lock the door at night, for I am afraid of ghosts !"
“ You have none to fear-the ghost of this house has been laid since you were here last."
“ Was that the occasion of your illness, or your recovery ?"
“Of one, certainly,” she said with sudden palor--and turning away quickly, crushed her handkerchief upon her mouth. What mischief I had done, I could not guessneither the cause of the heart-spasm which she vainly strove to hide.
I advanced to the opposite window, and threw open the sash.
"Come hither, Hal, dearest, and inhale this warm live air, as it comes flooding in ; it will renew your faded roses, and give your brown hair a beautiful gloss."
"Oh, you are the greatest humbug, Minnie, that I ever met; for you compel me to laugh at all your vagaries."
“Then, pet, we resemble in one way, a most delicious fruit."
“Aha, I see. If you laugh, I laugh--and then we are a pair."
“Finely rendered, dear. But how much better you are looking than I thought to find you, from your letter. And better now, than when I first came in."
“Do you? Well, I think I feel better. Indeed, I think I am quite well.”
“Oh, I am a Great Medicine. I have even cured myself.”
“Is it possible ? were you ever so weak, sick, sad and foolish as I am ? You have always been as merry as a lark in the meadows, with me."
“I'll be anything, to humor your whims, if you will only laugh and put away that ghastly look, which don't become you. You ought just now to see some of Dr. Jewett's comic faces. And as I live I here for a mantel ornament, you have a family tomb-beautiful, certainly, done in mosaic-mother-of-pearl door, creeping moss and flowers growing beneath the water-here a statuette, Rachel weeping-could you possibly find a Niobe somewhere ? a charming trio they would make. Beautiful, these are, certainly--but what asso ciations for a sick room—or rather, I should say, for a sympathetic little lady's boudoir. But you have the sun here all day in these windows-no wonder your plants are so healthy : nearly all in flower too. May I bespeak this tea-rose ? I am going somewhere one evening.”
“My brother does not know you are here. Ah, Fred, I did not tell him you were coming."
“That is good; I shall find him falling into his old ways, and dawn upon him like the Judgment Day."
“Delightful! But, Minnie, what a pattern of expedition you are-dresses and cloak hung up, bonnet and satchel put away, thimble and scissors in hand. What interminable lengths of embroidery you must accomplish in these flying visits !"
" Lengthening as I go. But 'broidered bands are at a discount now. I have at present a vision of a half dozen pinafores, cut and rolled up, ready to be made for Master Sammy."
“What a dear household angel you are, Minnie." “ Always was. Now let us run down stairs."
A MAIDEN lady “ of no particular age,” and a tired mother with a great heavy baby, cross from being continually tumbled into strange places, greeted by strange voices and stranger faces, three or four other people of indifferent manners and mediocre intellect—were not the most desirable surroundings for poor dear Hal, with her nervous temperament, her aching head and feeble frame.
We had just settled into a cozy chat, when aunt Sally, the above-mentioned maiden, called out in a shrill voice
“Now, Albertine, have you seen anything of that are collar and them are gloves ?”
"I have not,” Hal replied quietly ; but a shadow of annoyance crossed her pale face.
“What about those articles, Miss Sally ??? I asked.
“Why I'd ben out one day to buy me a pair o shuze, and when I c'min, laid 'em on the fire-shelf, in the parlow, and I never seen 'em sence.”
“I am very sorry they should have gone out of the way, but I will look for them. Mrs. Bovie has so much headache that it would not be kind to tax her with looking for any thing mislaid."
“Wal, now if yeoule find um, I shall be ra-al glad, for that ere collar cost me nine an sixpence, and them gloves, ni-as much more."
Aunt Sally was not ill-natured, so neither was she sufficiently intelligent to amuse or interest poor Hal, or in any way gifted with a housekeeper's tact to lighten her cares.
Once when we happened to be alone, I said,
“Dear Albertine, why do you tolerate the visits of this ancient maiden, in your present state of health, at least ?”