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- Miss Ludington's Sister - 4/23 -
It was not till evening that her servants reminded her that she had not eaten that day, and induced her to take food.
The next afternoon Paul arrived. He had not been without very serious doubt as to the manner in which his argument for the immortality of past selves might impress Miss Ludington. A mild melancholy such as hers sometimes becomes sweet by long indulgence. She might not welcome opinions which revolutionized the fixed ideas of her life, even though they should promise a more cheerful philosophy. If she did not accept his belief, but found it chimerical and visionary, the effect of its announcement upon her mind could only be unpleasantly disturbing. It was, therefore, not without some anxiety that he approached the house.
But his first glimpse of her, as she stood in the door awaiting him, dissipated his apprehensions. She wore a smiling face, and the deep black in which she always dressed was set off, for the first time since his knowledge of her, with a bit or two of bright colour.
She said not a word, but, taking him by the hand, led him into the sitting-room.
That morning she had sent into Brooklyn for immortelles, and had spent the day in festooning them about Ida's picture, so that now the sweet girlish face seemed smiling upon them out of a veritable bower of the white flowers of immortality.
In the days that followed, Miss Ludington seemed a changed woman, such blitheness did the new faith she had found bring into her life. The conviction that the past was deathless, and her bright girlhood immortal, took all the melancholy out of retrospection. Nay, more than that, it turned retrospection into anticipation. She no longer viewed her youth-time through the pensive haze of memory, but the rosy mist of hope. She should see it again, for was it not safe with God? Her pains to guard the memory of the beautiful past, to preserve it from the second death of forgetfulness, were now all needless; she could trust it with God, to be restored to her in his eternal present, its lustre undimmed, and no trait missing.
The laying aside of her mourning garb was but one indication of the change that had come over her.
The whole household, from scullion to coachman, caught the inspiration of her brighter mood. The servants laughed aloud about the house. The children of the gardener, ever before banished to other parts of the grounds, played unrebuked in the sacred street of the silent village.
As for Paul, since the revelation had come to him that the lady of his love was no mere dream of a life for ever vanished, but was herself alive for evermore, and that he should one day meet her, his love had assumed a colour and a reality it had never possessed before. To him this meant all it would have meant to the lover of a material maiden, to be admitted to her immediate society.
The sense of her presence in the village imparted to the very air a fine quality of intoxication. The place was her shrine, and he lived in it as in a sanctuary.
It was not as if he should have to wait many years, till death, before he should see her. As soon as he gave place to the later self which was to succeed him, he should be with her. Already his boyish self had no doubt greeted her, and she had taken in her arms the baby Paul who had held his little arms out to her picture twenty years before.
To be in love with the spirit of a girl, however beautiful she might have been when on earth, would doubtless seem to most young men a very chimerical sort of passion; but Paul, on the other hand, looked upon the species of attraction which they called love as scarcely more than a gross appetite. During his absence from home he had seen no woman's face that for a moment rivalled Ida's portrait. Shy and fastidious, he had found no pleasure in ladies' society, and had listened to his classmates' talk of flirtations and conquests with secret contempt. What did they know of love? What had their coarse and sensuous ideas in common with the rare and delicate passion to which his heart was dedicated--a love asking and hoping for no reward, but sufficient to itself?
He had spent but a few weeks at home when Miss Ludington began to talk quite seriously to him about studying for some profession. He was rather surprised at this, for he had supposed she would be glad to have him at home, for a while at lease, now that he had done with college. To Paul, at this time, the idea of any pursuit which would take him away from the village was extremely distasteful, and he had no difficulty in finding excuses enough for procrastinating a step for which, indeed, no sort of urgency could be pretended.
He was to be Miss Ludington's heir, and any profession which he might adopt would be purely ornamental at most.
Finding that he showed no disposition to consider a profession she dropped that point and proposed that he should take six months of foreign travel, as a sort of rounding off of his college course. To the advantages of this project he was, however, equally insensible. When she urged it on him, he said, "Why, aunty, one would say you were anxious to get rid of me. Don't we get on well together? Have you taken a dislike to me? I'm sure I'm very comfortable here. I don't want to do anything different, or to go off anywhere. Why won't you let me stay with you?"
And so she had to let the matter drop.
The truth was she had become anxious to get him away; but it was on his account, not hers.
In putting his room to rights one day since his return from college she had come upon a scrap of paper containing some verses addressed "To Ida." Paul had rather a pretty knack at turning rhymes, and the tears came to Miss Ludington's eyes as she read these lines. They were an attempt at a love sonnet, throbbing with passion, and yet so mystical in some of the allusions that nothing but her knowledge of Paul's devotion to Ida would have given her a clue to his meaning. She was filled with apprehension as she considered the effect which this infatuation, if it should continue to gain strength, might have upon one of Paul's dreamy temperament and excessive ideality. That she had devoted her own lonely and useless life to the cult of the past did not greatly matter, although in the light of her present happier faith she saw and regretted her mistake; but as for permitting Paul's life to be overshadowed by the same influence she could not consent to it. Something must be done to get him away from home, or at least to divert the current of his thought. The failure of her efforts to induce him to consider any scheme that involved his leaving the village threw her into a state of great uneasiness.
At about this time it chanced that Miss Ludington drove into Brooklyn one morning to do some shopping. She was standing at a counter in a large store, examining goods, when she became aware that a lady standing at another counter was attentively regarding her. The lady in question was of about her own height and age, her hair being nearly white, like Miss Ludington's; but it was evident from the hard lines of her face and her almost shabby dress that life had by no means gone so easily with her as with the lady she was regarding so curiously.
As Miss Ludington looked up she smiled, and, crossing the store, held out her hand. "Ida Ludington! don't you know me?" Miss Ludington scanned her face a moment, and then, clasping her outstretched hand, exclaimed, delightedly, "Why, Sarah Cobb, where did you come from?" and for the next quarter of an hour the two ladies, quite oblivious of the clerks who were waiting on them, and the customers who were jostling them, stood absorbed in the most animated conversation. They had been school-girls together in Hilton forty-five years before, and, not having met since Miss Ludington's removal from the village, had naturally a great deal to say.
"It is thirty years since I have seen any one from Hilton," said Miss Ludington at last, "and I'm not going to let you escape me. You must come out with me to my house and stay overnight, and we will talk old times over. I would not have missed you for anything."
Sarah Cobb, who had said that her name was now Mrs. Slater, and that she lived in New York, having removed there from Hilton only a few years previous, seemed nothing loth to accept her friend's invitation, and it was arranged that Miss Ludington should send her carriage to meet her at one of the Brooklyn ferries the day following. Miss Ludington wanted to send the carriage to Mrs. Slater's residence in New York, but the latter said that it would be quite as convenient for her to take it at the ferry.
After repeated injunctions not to fail of her appointment, Miss Ludington finally bade her old school-mate good-by and drove home in a state of pleased expectancy.
She entertained Paul at the tea-table with an account of her adventure, and gave him an animated history of the Cobb family in general and Sarah in particular. She had known Sarah ever since they both could walk, and during the latter part of their school life they had been inseparable. The scholars had even christened them "The Twins," because they were so much together and looked so much alike. Their secrets were always joint property.
The next afternoon Miss Ludington went herself in the carriage to fetch her friend from the ferry. She wanted to be with her and enjoy her surprise when she first saw the restored Hilton on entering the grounds. In this respect her anticipations were fully justified.
The arrangement of the grounds was such that a high board fence protected the interior from inquisitive passers-by on the highway, and the gate was set in a corner, so that no considerable part of the enclosure was visible from it. The gravelled driveway, immediately after entering the grounds, took a sharp turn round the corner of the gardener's cottage, which answered for a gatekeeper's lodge. The moment, however, it was out of sight from the highway it became transformed into a country road, with wide, grassy borders and footpaths close to the rail fences, while just ahead lay the silent village, with the small, brown, one-storey, one-roomed school-house on one side of the green, and the little white box of a meeting-house, with its gilt weathercock, on the other.
As this scene burst upon Mrs. Slater's view, her bewilderment was amusing to witness. Her appearance for a moment was really as if she believed herself the victim of some sort of magic, and suspected her friend of being a sorceress. Reassured on this point by Miss Ludington's smiling explanation, her astonishment gave place to the liveliest interest and curiosity. The carriage was forthwith stopped and sent around to the stables, while the two friends went on foot through the village. Every house, every fence-corner, every lilac-bush or clump of hollyhocks, or row of currant-bushes in the gardens, suggested some reminiscence, and the two old ladies were presently laughing and crying at once. At every dwelling they lingered long, and went on reluctantly with many backward glances, and all their speech was but a repetition of, "Don't you
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