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- Miss Ludington's Sister - 23/23 -

with the intoxicating reality of these golden days Paul looked back on his wooing of the supposed Ida Ludington as a vague and unsatisfying dream.

Now that Ida was no longer playing a part, he was really just becoming acquainted with her, and finding out what manner of maiden it was to whom he had lost his heart. Each day, almost each hour, discovered to him some new trait, some unsuspected grace of mind or heart, till, in this glowing girl, so bright, so blithe, so piquant, he had difficulty in recognizing any likeness, save of face and form, to the moody, freakish, melancholy, hysterical, and altogether eerie Ida Ludington.

"I am so glad," Miss Ludington said to her one day, "that you are Ida Slater, and not my Ida."

"Why are you glad?" Ida asked. "Would you not have been happier if you had gone on believing me to be your girlish self?"

"I should have grown very sad by this time if I had continued to think that you were she?" replied Miss Ludington. "I have not long to live, and it is far more important to me that she should be there to welcome me when I go over than that I should have her here with me for a few days before I go. If she were here on earth the thought of so soon leaving her behind would sadden me as much as the hope of meeting her now gladdens me."

Miss Ludington neither talked herself nor permitted others to talk in a melancholy tone of the probable nearness of her end. "Death may seem dreadful," she said to Ida one day, "to the foolish people who fancy that an individual dies but once, forgetting that their present selves are but the last of many selves already dead. The death which may now be near me is no sadder, no more important, than the deaths of my past selves, and no different, save in the single respect that this time no later self will follow me. This house of our individuality, which has sheltered us in turn, having become incapable of being repaired for the use of subsequent tenants, is to be pulled down. That is all."

Another time she said, "It is very strange to see people who dread death always looking for it instead of backward. In their fear of dying once they quite forget that they have died already many times. It is the most foolish of all things to imagine that by prolonging the career of the individual, death is kept at bay. The present self must die in any case by the inevitable process of time, whether the body be kept in repair for later selves or not. The death of the body is but the end of the daily dying that makes up earthly life."

They were married in the sitting-room before the picture that had exerted so strong an influence upon their lives. The servants were invited in, but there was no company. Ida wore a white satin with a low corsage, and as she stood directly below the picture, the resemblance impressed the beholders very strikingly. It was as if the girl had stepped down from the picture to be married.

Ida had demurred a little to standing just there, which bad been the suggestion of Miss Ludington. She was not without a vague superstition that the spirit of the girl whose lover she had stolen away would not wish her well. But when she hinted this, Miss Ludington replied, "You must not think of it that way. What has a spirit like her to do with earthly passions? Your love has saved Paul from a dream as vain as it was beautiful, and which, had it gone on, might have gained a morbid strength and blighted his life. I like to fancy, and I know it is Paul's belief, that the spirit of my Ida influenced you to come to us just as you came, that under her form Paul might fall in love with you. In no other way but just this do I believe he could have been cured of his infatuation."

Owing to the precarious condition of Miss Ludington's health, Paul and Ida would not consent to leave home for any bridal trip.

It was but a week after the wedding that, on going into Miss Ludington's room as usual the first thing in the morning, Ida found her dead. She must have expired very quietly, if not, indeed, in her sleep, for her room adjoined that of the bridal couple, and she could have summoned Ida with the touch of a bell. Her features were relaxed in a smile of joyous recognition.

* * * * * *

Paul took his wife to Europe directly after the funeral. One night, during their absence, a fire, probably set by tramps, broke out in one of the empty houses of the village, and, the wind being high and no help near, all the buildings on the place, including the homestead, were completely destroyed. The latter being shut up, nothing even of the furniture could be saved, and the entire contents, including the picture in the sitting-room, were consumed. The tourists were much shocked by the receipt of the intelligence, but Paul expressed the inmost conviction of both when he finally said, "Now that she is gone, perhaps it is as well. Ashes to ashes! The past has claimed its own."

They never rebuilt the village or the homestead, but on their return to this country took up their residence in New York. The site of the mimic Hilton is once more tilled as a farm.

It is scarcely necessary to add that Ida made such provision for her family as enabled them to retire from the medium business. Paul insisted that this provision should be at the most generous nature, for was he not indebted to them for the happiness of his life? He never would admit that Mrs. Legrand was a fraud, but always maintained that none but a truly great medium could have materialized the vaguest of love-dreams into the sweetest of wives.

As for Dr. Hull, or, rather, Mr. Slater, he became in time quite a crony of Paul's, and the book on which the latter is engaged, setting forth the argument for the immortality of past selves, will owe not a little to the suggestions of the old gentleman.

Miss Ludington's Sister - 23/23

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