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LEAH MORDECAI. A NOVEL.
BY MRS. BELLE KENDRICK ABBOTT.
TO MY BELOVED UNCLE, THE REV. J. RYLAND KENDRICK, D.D., WHOSE HOSPITABLE HOME I ONCE SPENT MANY HAPPY DAYS--DAYS MADE FOR EVER BRIGHT BY THE LOVE OF HIS GREAT HEART, LOVE THAT FLOWED LIKE A PURE STREAM FROM A CRYSTAL FOUNTAIN, ABOUND AND ABOUT MY YOUNG LIFE-- THIS BOOK IS MOST TENDERLY
INSCRIBED BY THE AUTHOR.
ATLANTA, GA, November, 1875.
THE giant clock on the wall in the assembly-room of Madam Truxton's fashionable school had marked the hour for dismission.
Groups of restless, anxious pupils stood about the apartment, or were gathered at the windows, watching the rain that had been falling in copious showers since morning. All were eager to go, yet none dared brave the storm.
Under the stone archway of the entrance to the assembly-hall, a group of four maidens stood chatting, apart from the rest, watching the rain, and impatient for its cessation.
"I know my father will either send my brother, or come for me himself," said Helen Le Grande, "so I need not fear the rain." Then, turning to the soft-eyed Jewess who stood by her side, she added, "When the carriage comes, Leah, you can take a seat with me. I'll see that you are safely deposited at home."
"Thank you, Helen, but it won't hurt me to walk. Nothing hurts me--Leah Mordecai the despised." Then, averting her face, the young girl gazed abstractedly into the street, and began humming in a low tone.
To these words of the young Jewess there was no reply. A certain sort of emphasis in her utterance seemed to forbid any inquiry, and silence any word of censure that might arise to the lips of her companions.
"How mean of me, not to offer a seat in the carriage to Lizzie Heartwell, too," thought Helen after a moment's reflection; "but I dared not, on account of my brother, who has so repeatedly urged me to make equals only of the rich. He little knows how I love Lizzie Heartwell, and whether she be rich or poor I know not, neither do I care."
"I say, girls," at length broke the silence, as the fourth member of the group, Bertha Levy, a Jewess too, spoke out, "think how stupid I am. Mamma has promised me a small tea-party to-morrow night, and this wretched rain had well-nigh caused me to forget it; but, thank fortune, it's giving way a little, and maybe we shall all get home after awhile. I'm desperately hungry! Of course, you will all promise me to come, and I shall expect you." Then, turning to Helen, she said, "Won't you?"
"And you, Leah?"
"I will if I can. I am never sure of my movements, however."
"And you, dear Lizzie?"
"With the permission of my uncle and aunt; at any rate, I thank you for your kindness."
"Well, I shall expect you every one, and--"
"There comes the carriage," shouted Helen, as the liveried coach of the wealthy judge rolled round the corner, and drove up in front of the spacious school-building. "I knew my father would not forget me--yes, there is my brother."
The horses, thoroughly wet, looked dark and sleek as greyhounds, as they stood impatiently stamping the paving-stones, while a visible cloud of vapor rose from each distended nostril.
The coach door opened, and Emile Le Grande, with handsome, manly figure clad in a gray military suit, and equally handsome face, stepped out, and approached the group so impatiently watching the progress of the storm.
"Good morning, Miss Mordecai; I am happy that we meet again," said the gentleman, politely bowing.
"Thank you, sir; but your presence rather surprises us," replied Leah.
"I trust, though, I am not an unwelcome intruder upon this fair group?"
"Allow me to remind you, my brother, that my friends, Miss Heartwell and Miss Levy, are also present," said Helen rather reproachfully.
Emile acknowledged the reproof and the courtesy with an apology and a smile, and then added, "To Miss Mordecai's charms I owe the breach of politeness."
Leah's face flushed crimson, and her eye sparkled more brightly than ever at these flattering words of the young cadet; but she made no reply.
"Come, Helen, let's go," at length said the brother. "The horses are impatient. C‘sar is wet, and I guess you are tired, too." Then, turning to Leah, he continued, "Miss Mordecai, will you honor us with your company till we reach your father's house, where I pledge myself to deposit you safely?"
"Oh! yes, Leah will go; I have already asked her," said Helen. Then, after a moment's preparation, the two young friends stepped into the carriage.
"Good-by again, girls," said Bertha Levy gayly, as the coach door closed; "riding is rather better than walking, such a day as this. Remember to-morrow night." Then, with a dash, the carriage was out of sight.
"Well, Lizzie," resumed Bertha, smiling significantly, for she could not but observe Helen's manifest preference in offering Leah a seat with her, "we need not stand here any longer. I see that the rain, out of consideration for us, is about to cease, and I don't think any coach is coming for me. Do you expect one?"
To this characteristic remark, Lizzie Heartwell replied smilingly, "I guess, Bertha, with umbrellas, overshoes, and care, we can reach home without serious damage."
"But care is not a coach, you know, my friend, no matter how we turn it," said Bertha laughingly, as she donned the wrapping and overshoes. "I am as hungry as a wolf, and I fear mamma will let that young brother of mine eat all my dinner, if I am too slow in getting there. Boys are perfect cormorants, anyhow. Come, let's go at once."
The two girls stepped out into the slippery street, and turned their faces homeward. "I am glad, Lizzie," continued Bertha, as they turned corner after corner, "that our paths run together so far; having company is so much better than being alone this forlorn afternoon. And remember, I desire to know the answer to my invitation as early as possible. To-morrow is my brother Isaac's confirmation day, and we must all be promptly at the synagogue at nine o'clock."
"You shall know to-night, Bertha, and I will be with you, if possible. But here, before we part, let's stop and buy some bananas of old Maum Cinda. She is always so grateful for a fivepence dropped by a school-girl."
By this time the two girls were standing in front of the well-known fruit-stall of the old blind colored woman known far and near through the Queen City as "Maum Cinda." For years, hers had been the important market for supplying the school-children with luscious fruits, unimpeachable taffy, and ground-pea candy.
"An' bless de Lord, is it Miss Lizzie?" said the good-natured woman, as the sound of Lizzie Heartwell's voice fell upon her ear in the kindly spoken salutation.
"An' w'at will you have to-day, chile?"
"Some bananas, Maum Cinda--two for me, and two for my friend here, Miss Bertha Levy."
"Oh! yes, Miss Bertha," replied the woman, courtesying, "an' maybe I have seen Miss Bertha, but it's the sweet voice of Miss Lizzie that the old blind woman remembers"--handing the bananas across the wide board that protected her tempting wares from public incursions.
"You flatter me, Maum Cinda; but I hope the rainy day has not interfered much with your trade. Here"--and extending her slender white hand, Lizzie dropped the jingling pennies into the aged, wrinkled one that opened to receive them.
"God bless you, chile. You neber forget His poor ones, de blind. God bless you!"
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