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I have written the foregoing as an initiatory chapter, going back to the dim past, and speaking of such things only as could be grasped by a child's understanding. And now, before proceeding farther, I will explain the relationship existing between Albertine and myself. She had recently been made on orphan by the death of her father, which had been sudden, and also attended with many painful circumstances. Previous to this date, I think we knew little of the history of the family ; but papa having for a long time been in the practice of law, and a country magistrate was selected to administer upon and settle the Gunnison es. tate. But, greatly to his surprise and vexation, he found many things in and connected with the estate involved in mystery.
Mr. Gunnison, little Albertine's father, had been regarded as a man of wealth, his wife had had a fair marriage portion, but no papers, deeds or records could be found, or item giving a clue to any means by which either or any of this could be recovered. It had also been rumored that the deceased had made an extensive purchase of land and had paid for it, in full. Now no evidence could be discovered that any such purchase had ever been made. If there were witnesses to this, they were persons for whose pecuniary interest it was, at least for the present, to keep silence.
So, little Albertine, a slight, delicate child of some thirteen years, and her brave brother Fred, a year older, were left penniless. But they were not utterly destitute, nor quite thrown upon the wild world, for the excellent parents of the mother gave these bereaved ones a home.
But dark hints of an evil life, of wasted means, of dissim
ulation reached her even there, and the pale young mother faded slowly, uttering no word in any ear ; for her grief, whatever it might have been, was locked fast within her guileless bosom. Even though this was all untrue, utterly and foully false, young Mrs. Gunnison had no nieans to disprove it. No word of her husband's during his life had assured her of what he suffered her to believe, that his means were abundant, and no account had been given, or taken of her individual property, or the use to which it had been applied. And now she had nothing.
It was not thought to be the loss of supposed affluence, for she was still far above want, her father, old Mr. Bartell, had now no child but her, and was a good farmer upon his own lands, but some hidden sorrow, not the death of her husband only or the loss of his companionship, and this to her was great ; but that his fair name had perished with him, this broke her heart.
So, when my papa saw all this, he took me over with him to make friends with the gentle girl who had been so greatly bereaved, and to bring her home with me to spend the entire summer, and go with me down to the village school. But the brother, Freddy, remained with his mother -she could not be parted from both her children. '
Albertine was an apt scholar, and quite a favorite with our teacher ; a young lady of rare merit for a country schoolmistress. Mamma showed her all kindness, and my sister, Mildred, taught her many graceful accomplishments, and Rose, my beautiful sister Rose, found many ways to please the lonely, little orphan girl. Edgar, my second brother, was at West Point, pursuing his studies ; but, on his occasional visits home, some token of regard for the young stranger, which he never failed to bring, showed his amiable nature.
But when the summer had faded, and the storms of winter beat upon the hills, the lone mother felt the bleak winds striking in upon her desolate bosom. She needed the soulwarmth of her child to comfort her, and keep her from perishing. My little Albertine went from us, bearing on her pretty lips our many caresses-enriched by the memory of our tender regard, and many beautiful gifts wherewith to cheer her weary little heart. We wrote, sometimes, but could not hope to meet again for many long months.
Our new governess, Miss Edith Standish, had arrived, and commenced on her duties. Mamma would gladly have retained my sister Mildred's governess for Rose and myself, but Miss Mitchell had already deferred her marriage for more than a year for her beloved pupil's sake, and was now settled in her own beautiful home. We rejoiced in her good fortune, believing her worth to be even greater than this. It was during this interim that I had, with Albertine, attended the village school-papa thinking it wise to give his aid and influence to this valuable institution—it was also a novelty for me, and a pleasant walk during the summer and autumn months.
We had rarely heard from my eldest brother—my tall, dark, handsome brother, Hermann, who had now been absent more than six months. He had completed a commercial education and gone South, but each letter he wrote came from a different post-office, as if he were still traveling and undecided where to locate. It was papa's will that my eldest brother should enter into business abroad, for various and for obvious reasons. He was the heir of Glenelvan, and as papa, being a just man, would divide his whole property, equally, between his sons and daughters, it was of prime importance that Hermann should accumulate individual property, so that, as the proprietor and resident of Glenelvan, this venerable homestead should not apparently, or in fact, suffer loss or diminution.
Glenelvan had great and varied resources within itself, fully equal to the yearly expenditure of any of its successive heirs and incumbents, and they always provided against a
drain of them by the rightful marriage dowers, or patrimony, by requiring the heir to accumulate—by saving from his allowance, or by commerce, or by a learned professionsufficient substance, that when he became the proprietor of this grand old place, it should neither be degraded in position nor impoverished in means. Papa chose that Hermann should engage in business abroad, believing he would thereby widen his sphere of experience, and general information, and sympathies; and would, in consequence of these, bring new ideas, and develop to a greater extent the natural capacities of his inherited estate.
Papa had a sister living south, on a princely estate, belonging to her husband; but of this aunt, Hermann never spoke in any of his letters. I think he had not seen her.
But the winter, with its duties and its joys, its studies and amusements wore away, and the glad spring came unlocking her thousand crystal caskets, scattering her priceless jewels through many a fairy dell.
One lovely morning, when the sun was just glancing down into the green valleys, and the dews were trembling on many a silvery leaf and opening flower, while song-birds were pouring forth their merriest lays, and along the hedges and beneath old jutting eves, the fantastic beginnings of many a bright little home might be seen, we went forthRose and I with Miss Standish, on our first holiday, to visit the home of our dead.
On a beautiful western slope, defended on the north by jutting crags, and a stunted growth of black cedars, my ancestors were gathered. I shall not speak at length of these. Of all the green mounds there, two, only, were heaped within the scope of my memory.
And there our steps were staid. We came, bringing the earliest flowers, to plant upon a small green mound, with its tiny marble slab of dazzling whiteness standing at its head.
A weeping-willow, bending gracefully, swaying to and
fro, swept the long grass with its shining hair. Miss Standish stooped and read :
GERTRUDE EVANGELINE MINSTER. May 12, 1835. Aged 3 years and 12 days. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” “This is the grave of your angel-sister,” she said to Rose, who turned away to wipe a tear from her tender blue eyes.
I remember her, our pretty Gertrude, with all the freshness of a morning dream. Her blue eyes, tender like Rosa's, the soft rings of her golden hair, the pale, fair brow, traced by its blue veins, deepening almost violet upon the temples, so transparent was the alabaster whiteness of her skin, and her mouth-angels only have a mouth so pure-soft, sweet, at times sad, oh, far too sad for childhood. The silken thread of thought was at that moment running on in harmo ny, for Rose softly said :
“Sad as the faces of friends that die, and beautiful as their memory."
And our baby-sister, with her angel beauty, her sweet, lisping mouth, her heaven-revealing eyes, and bright gleaming hair, was a prophecy, now fulfilled.
We sat down by the little green mound, and talked of the days when she played among the flowers, herself lovelier than any there. I had not then learned to look beyond the scope of visible things, and this early death was to me a dark and unlovely mystery.
The other was a larger grave—a dark cypress overshadowing the massive marble at the head, and here, many costly and exquisitely fair and lovely offerings had been brought; thus cherishing the beautiful memory of the dead. We read on that marble page :
Sophie ENGELBORG MINSTER. Date and inscription had little interest for us ; we remembered only the "home-gone."
This lady was my father's eldest sister, though younger than himself, and her home had always been at Glenelvan,