First published as « Sharing her crime ». A strange and rebel girl has many adventures. Follow her on them. You will like this book!
Mount Sunset Hall
The jingle of the approaching sleigh-bells, which had frightened Dr. Wiseman from the beach, had been unheard by the drunken nurse. But ten minutes after she had left, a sleigh came slowly along the narrow, slippery path.
It contained but two persons. One was an elderly woman, wrapped and muffled in furs. A round, rosy, cheery face beamed out from a black velvet bonnet, and two small, twinkling, merry gray eyes, lit up the pleasantest countenance in the world.
Her companion, who sat in the driver’s seat, was a tall, jolly-looking darkey, with a pair of huge, rolling eyes, looking like a couple of snow-drifts in a black ground. A towering fur cap ornamented the place where the “wool ought to grow,” and was the only portion of this son of darkness which could be discovered for his voluminous wrappings.
The path was wet, slippery, and dangerous in the extreme. The horses were restive, and a single false step would have overturned them into the water.
“Missus Scour, if you please, missus, you’d better git out,” said the negro, reining in the horses, in evident alarm; “this yer’s the wussest road I’se ever trabeled. These wishious brutes ‘ll spill me and you, and the sleigh, and then the Lor only knows what’ll ever become of us.”
“Do you think there’s any danger, Jupiter?” said Mrs. Gower (for such was the name her sable attendant had transformed into Scour), in a voice of alarm.
“This road’s sort o’ ‘spicious anyhow,” replied Jupiter. “I’d ‘vise you, Missus Scour, mum, to get out and walk till we is past this yer beach. ‘Sides the snow, this yer funnelly beach is full o’ holes, an’ if we got upsot inter one of ’em, ole marse might whistle for you and me, and the sleigh arter that!”
With much difficulty, and with any amount of whoaing, Jupiter managed to stop the sleigh, and assisted stout Mrs. Gower to alight. This was no easy job, for that worthy lady was rather unwieldy, and panted like a stranded porpoise, as she slowly plunged through the wet snow-drifts.
Suddenly, above the jingling sleigh-bells, the wail of an infant met her ear. She paused in amazement, and looked around. Again she heard it — this time seemingly at her feet. She looked down and beheld a small, dark bundle, lying amid the deep snow.
Once more the piteous cry met her ear, and stooping down, she raised the little dark object in her arms.
Unfolding the shawl, she beheld the infant whose cries had first arrested her ear.
“Good heavens! a baby exposed to this weather — left here to perish!” exclaimed good Mrs. Gower, in horror. “Poor little thing, it’s half frozen. Who could have done so unnatural a deed?”
“Laws! Missus Scour, what ye got dar?” inquired Jupiter.
“A baby, Jupe! A poor little helpless infant whom some unnatural wretch has left here to die!” exclaimed Mrs. Gower, with more indignation than she had ever before felt in her life.
“Good Lor! so ’tis! What you gwine to do wid it, Missus Scour, mum?”
“Do with it?” said Mrs. Gower, looking at him in surprise. “Why, take it with me, of course. You wouldn’t have me leave the poor infant here to perish, would you?”
“‘Deed, Missus Scour, I wouldn’t bring it ‘long ef I was you. Jes’ ‘flect how tarin’ mad ole marse ‘ll be ’bout it. Don’t never want to see no babies roun’. Deed, honey, you’d better take my ‘vice an’ leave it whar it was,” said Jupiter.
“What? Leave it here to die. I’m ashamed of you, Jupiter,” said the old lady, rebukingly.
“But Lor! Missus Scour! ole marse ‘ll trow it out de winder fust thing. Shouldn’t be s’prised, nudder, ef he’d wollop me for bringing it. Jes’ ‘flect upon it, Missus Scour, nobody can’t put no ‘pendence onto him, de forsooken ole sinner.
Trowed his ‘fernal ole stick at me, t’other day, and like to knock my brains out, jes’ for nothin’ at all. ‘Deed, honey, I wouldn’t try sich a ‘sperriment, no how.”
“Now, Jupiter, you needn’t say another word. My mind’s made up, and I’m going to keep this child, let ‘ole marse’ rage as he will. I’m just as sure as I can be, that the Lord sent it to me, tonight, as a Christmas gift, in place of my poor, dear Aurora, that he took to heaven,” said good Mrs. Gower, folding the wailing infant closer still to her warm, motherly bosom.
“Sartin, missus, in course you knows best, but ef you’d only ‘flect. ‘Pears to me, ole marse ‘ll tar roun worser dan ever, when he sees it, and discharge you in you ‘sponsible ole age o’ life ‘count of it.”
“And if he does discharge me, Jupiter, after twenty years’ service, I have enough to support myself and this little one to the end of my life, thank the Lord!” said Mrs. Gower, her honest, ruddy face all aglow with generous enthusiasm.
“Well, I s’pose ‘taint no sorter use talking,” said Jupiter, with a sigh, as he gathered up the reins; “but ef anything happens, jes ‘member I ‘vised you of it ‘forehand. Here we is on de road now, so you’d better get in ef you’s agoin’ to take de little ‘un wid you.”
With considerable squeezing, and much panting, and some groaning, good Mrs. Gower was assisted into the sleigh, and muffled up in the buffalo robes.
Wrapping the child in her warm, fur-lined mantle, to protect it from the chill night air, they sped merrily along over the hard, frozen ground.
Christmas morning dawned bright, sunshiny, and warm. The occupants of the sleigh had long since left the city behind them, and were now driving along the more open country.
The keen, frosty air deepened the rosy glow on Mrs. Gower’s good-humored face. Warmly protected from the cold, the baby lay sleeping sweetly in her arms, and even Jupiter’s sable face relaxed into a grin as he whistled “Coal Black Rose.”
The sun was about three hours high when they drew up before a solitary inn. And here Jupiter assisted Mrs. Gower into the house, while he himself looked after his horses.
Mrs. Gower was shown by the hostess into the parlor, where a huge wood-fire roared up the wide chimney. Removing the large shawl that enveloped it, Mrs. Gower turned for the first time to examine her prize.
It did not differ much from other babies, save in being the tiniest little creature that ever was seen. With small, pretty features, and an unusual profusion of brown hair. As it awoke, it disclosed a pair of large blue eyes — rather vacant-looking, it must be confessed — and immediately set up a most vigorous squealing.
Small as it was, it evidently possessed lungs that would not have disgraced a newsboy, and seemed bent upon fully exercising them. For in spite of Mrs. Gower’s cooing and kissing, it cried and screamed “and would not be comforted.”
“Poor little dear, it’s so hungry,” said the good old lady, rocking it gently. “What a pretty little darling it is. I’m sure it looks like little Aurora!”
“What is the matter with baby?” inquired the hostess, at this moment entering.
“It’s hungry, poor thing. Bring in some warm milk, please,” replied Mrs. Gower.
The milk was brought, and baby, like a sensible child, as it doubtless was, did ample justice to it. Then rolling it up in the shawl, Mrs. Gower placed it in the rocking-chair, and left it to its own reflections, while she sat down to a comfortable breakfast of fragrant coffee, hot rolls, and fried ham.
When breakfast was over Jupiter brought round the horses and sleigh, and Mrs. Gower entered, holding her prize, and they drove off.
It was noon when they reached the end of their long journey, and entered the little village of St. Mark’s. Sloping upward from the bay on one side, and encircled by a dense primeval forest on the other, the village stood.
St. Mark’s was a great place in the eyes of its inhabitants, and considered by them the only spot on the globe fit for rational beings to live in. It was rather an unpretending-looking place, though, to strangers, who sometimes came from the city to spend the hot summer months there, in preference to any fashionable watering-place. It contained a church, a school-house, a lecture-room, a post-office, and an inn.
But the principal building, and pride of the village, was Mount Sunset Hall. It stood upon a sloping eminence, which the villagers dignified with the title of hill, but which in reality was no such thing. The hall itself was a large, quaint, old mansion of gray stone, built in the Elizabethan style, with high turrets, peaked gables, and long, high windows.
It was finely situated, commanding on one side a view of the entire village and the bay, and on the other the dark pine forest and far-spreading hills beyond. A carriage-path wound up toward the front, through an avenue of magnificent horse chestnuts, now bare and leafless.
A wide porch, on which the sun seemed always shining, led into a long, high hall, flanked on each side by doors, opening into the separate apartments. A wide staircase of dark polished oak led to the upper chambers of the old mansion.
The owner of Sunset Hall was Squire Erliston, the one great man of the village, the supreme autocrat of St. Mark’s. The squire was a rough, gruff, choleric old bear, before whom children and poultry and other inferior animals quaked in terror.
He had been once given to high living and riotous excesses, and Sunset Hall had then been a place of drunkenness and debauchery. But these excesses at last brought on a dangerous disease, and for a long time his life was despaired of.
Then the squire awoke to a sense of his situation, took a “pious streak” — as he called it himself — and registered a vow, that if it pleased Providence not to deprive the world in general, and St. Marks in particular, of so valuable an ornament as himself, he would eschew all his evil deeds and meditate seriously on his latter end.
Whether his prayer was heard or not I cannot undertake to say. But certain it is the squire recovered. And, casting over in his mind the ways and means by which he could best do penance for his past sins, he resolved to go through a course of Solomon’s Proverbs, and — get married.
Deeming it best to make the greatest sacrifice first, he got married. And, after the honeymoon was past, surprised his wife one day by taking down the huge family Bible left him by his father, and reading the first chapter. This he continued for a week — yawning fearfully all the time. But after that he resolved to make his wife read them aloud to him, and thereby save him the trouble.
“For,” said the squire sagely, “what’s the use of having a wife if she can’t make herself useful. ‘A good wife’s a crown to her husband,’ as Solomon says.”
So Mrs. Erliston was commanded each morning to read one of the chapters by way of morning prayers. The squire would stretch himself on a lounge, light a cigar, lay his head on her lap, and prepare to listen. But before the conclusion of the third verse Squire Erliston and his good resolutions would be as sound as one of the Seven Sleepers.
When his meek little wife would hint at this, her worthy liege lord would fly into a passion, and indignantly deny the assertion. He asleep, indeed! Preposterous! — he had heard every word!
And, in proof of it, he vociferated every text he could remember, and insisted upon making Solomon the author of them all. This habit he had retained through life, often to the great amusement of his friends, setting the most absurd phrases down to the charge of the Wise Monarch.
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