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- Miss Ludington's Sister - 5/23 -
remember this?" and "Do you remember that?"
Mrs Slater, having left Hilton but recently, was able to explain just what had been removed, replaced, or altered subsequent to Miss Ludington's flight. The general appearance of the old street, Mrs. Slater said, remained much the same, despite the changes which had driven Miss Ludington away; but new streets had been opened up, and the population of the village had trebled, and become largely foreign.
In their slow progress they came at last to the school-house.
The door was ajar, and they entered on tiptoe, like tardy scholars. With a glance of mutual intelligence they hung their hats, each on the one of the row of wooden pegs in the entry, which had been hers as a school-girl, and through the open door entered the silent school-room and sat down in the self-same seats in which two maidens, so unlike them, yet linked to them by so strangely tender a tie, had reigned as school-room belles nearly half a century before. In hushed voices, with moist eyes; and faces shining with the light of other days, those grey-haired women talked together of the scenes which that homely old room had witnessed, the long-silent laughter, and the voices, no more heard on earth, with which it had once echoed.
There in the corner stood a great wrought-iron stove, the counterpart of the one around whose red-hot sides they had shivered, in their short dresses, on cold winter mornings. On the walls hung the quaint maps of that period whence they had received geographical impressions, strangely antiquated now. Along one side of the room ran a black-board, on which they had been wont to demonstrate their ignorance of algebra and geometry to the complete satisfaction of the master, while behind them as they sat was a row of recitation benches, associated with so many a trying ordeal of school-girl existence.
"Do you ever think where the girls are in whose seats we are sitting?" said Mrs. Slater, musingly. "I can remember myself as a girl, more or less distinctly, and can even be sentimental about her; but it doesn't seem to me that I am the same person at all; I can't realize it."
"Of course you can't realize it. Why should you expect to realize what is not true?" replied Miss Ludington.
"But I am the same person," responded Mrs. Slater.
Miss Ludington regarded her with a smile.
"You have kept your looks remarkably, my dear," she said. "You did not lose them all at once, as I did; but isn't it a little audacious to try to pass yourself off as a school-girl of seventeen?"
Mrs. Slater laughed. "But I once was she, if I am not now," she said. "You won't deny that."
"I certainly shall deny it, with your permission," replied Ludington. "I remember her very well, and she was no more an old woman like you than you are a young girl like her."
Mrs. Slater laughed again. "How sharp you are getting, my dear!" she said. "Since you are so close after me, I shall have to admit that I have changed slightly in appearance in the forty odd years since we went to school at Hilton, and I'll admit that my heart is even less like a girl's than my face; but, though I have changed so much, I am still the same person, I suppose."
"Which do you mean?" inquired Miss Ludington. "You say in one breath that you are a changed person, and that you are the same person. If you are a changed person you can't be the same, and if you are the same you can't have changed."
"I should really like to know what you are driving at," said Mrs. Slater, calmly. "It seems to me that we are disputing about words."
"Oh, no, not about words! It is a great deal more than a question of words," exclaimed Miss Ludington. "You say that we old women and the girls who sat here forty years and more ago are the same persons, notwithstanding we are so completely transformed without and within. I say we are not the same, and thank God, for their sweet sakes, that we are not. Surely that is not a mere dispute about words."
"But, if we are not those girls, then what has become of them?" asked Mrs. Slater.
"You might better ask what had become of them if you had to seek them in us; but I will tell you what has become of them, Sarah. It is what will become of us when we, in our turn, vanish from earth, and the places that know us now shall know us no more. They are immortal with God, and we shall one day meet them over there."
"What a very odd idea!" exclaimed Mrs. Slater, regarding her friend with astonishment.
Miss Ludington flushed slightly as she replied, "I don't think it half so odd, and not nearly so repulsive, as your notion, that we old women are the mummies of the girls who came before us. It is easier, as well as far sweeter, for me to believe that our youth is somewhere immortal, than that it has been withered, shrivelled, desiccated into our old age. Oh, no, my dear, Paradise is not merely a garden of withered flowers! We shall find the rose and lily of our life blooming there."
The hours had slipped away unnoticed as the friends talked together, and now the lengthening shadows on the school-room floor recalled Miss Ludington to the present, and to the duties of a hostess.
As they walked slowly across the green toward the homestead, she told her friend more fully of this belief in the immortality of past selves which had so recently come to her, and especially how it had quite taken away the melancholy with which she had all her life before looked back upon her youth. Mrs. Slater listened in silence.
"Where on earth did you get that portrait?" she exclaimed, as Miss Ludington, after taking her on a tour through the house before tea, brought her into the sitting-room.
"Whom does it remind you of?" asked Miss Ludington.
"I know whom it reminds me of," replied Mrs. Slater; "but how it ever got here is what puzzles me."
"I thought you would recognize it," said Miss Ludington, with a pleased smile. "I suppose you think it odd you should never have seen it, considering whom it is of?"
"I do, certainly," replied Mrs. Slater.
"You see," explained Miss Ludington, "I did not have it painted till after I left Hilton. You remember that little ivory portrait of myself at seventeen, which I thought so much of after I lost my looks? Well, this portrait I had enlarged from that. I have always believed that it was very like, but you don't know what a reassurance it is to me to have you recognize it so instantly."
At the tea-table Paul appeared, and was introduced to Mrs. Slater, who regarded him with considerable interest. Miss Ludington had informed her that he was her cousin and heir, and had told her something of his romantic devotion to the Ida of the picture. Paul, who from Miss Ludington had learned all there was to be known about the persons and places of old Hilton, entered with much interest into the conversation of the ladies on the subject, and after tea accompanied them in their stroll through that part of the village which they had not inspected before.
When they returned to the house it was quite dark, and they had lights in the sitting-room, and refreshments were served. Mrs. Slater's eyes were frequently drawn toward the picture over the fireplace, and some reference of hers to the immortelles in which it was framed, turned the conversation upon the subject that Miss Ludington and she had been discussing in the school-house.
Mrs. Slater, whose conversation showed her to be a woman of no great culture, but unusual force of character and intelligence, expressed herself as interested in the idea of the immortality of past selves, but decidedly sceptical. Paul grew eloquent in maintaining its truth and reasonableness, and, indeed, that it was the only intelligible theory of immortality that was possible. The idea that the same soul successively animated infancy, childhood, youth, manhood, and maturity, was, he argued, but a modification of the curious East Indian dream of metempsychosis, according to which every soul is supposed to inhabit in turn innumerable bodies.
"You almost persuade me," said Mrs. Slater, at last. "But I never heard of the spirit of anybody's past self appearing to them. If there are such spirits, why have they never manifested themselves? Nobody every heard of the spirit of one's past self appearing at a spiritualist seance, for instance."
"There is one evidence among others," replied Paul. "that spiritualism is a fraud. The mediums merely follow the vulgar superstition in the kind of spirits that they claim to produce."
"Very likely you are right," said Mrs. Slater. "In fact, I presume you are quite right. And yet, if I really believed as you do, do you know what I would do? I would go to some of the spirit mediums over in New York, of whom the papers are giving such wonderful accounts, and let them try to materialize for me the spirit of my youth. Probably they couldn't do it, but possibly they might; and a mighty little sight, Mr. De Riemer, is more convincing than all the belief in the world. If I could see the spirit of my youth face to face, I should believe that it had a separate existence from my own. Otherwise, I don't believe I ever could."
"But the mediums are a set of humbugs!" exclaimed Paul; and then he added, "I beg your pardon. Perhaps you are a spiritualist?"
"You need not beg my pardon," said Mrs. Slater, good-humouredly. "I am not a spiritualist beyond thinking--and that is only lately--that there may possibly be something in it, after all. Perhaps there may be, for example, one part of truth to a hundred parts of fraud. I really don't believe there is more. Now, as you think the mediums humbugs, and I am sure most of them are, their failure to accomplish anything would not shake your faith in your theory, and you would only have lost an evening and the fee you paid the medium. On the other hand, there is a bare possibility--mind you, I think it is no more than that--a bare possibility, say the smallest possible chance, but a chance--that you would see--her," and Mrs. Slater glanced at the portrait.
Paul turned pale.
Miss Ludington, with much agitation, exclaimed, "If I thought there was any possibility of that, do you suppose, Sarah, that I would consider time or money?"
"I don't suppose you would," replied Mrs. Slater. "You would not need to; but the money is something which I should have to consider, if it were my
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