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HE first time we met Mina Vane was at the American Institute
Fair. She was with an old schoolfellow of mine, and - But first I must explain who “we” were. “We” were my cousin Ralph Foy, his daughter Gertrude, and myself. Ralph was a widower, and I was his housekeeper, and Gertrude's governess. Gertrude was her father's darling, and mine; a sweet joyous creature of eighteen, on whom life seemed to have showered its choicest blessings as it does on some chosen ones, and in her I tasted the pleasures I had never known, the pleasures of a petted and happy girlhood, and the anticipated joys of a happy future. Everything seemed so bright before her that bright September day!
My old school-friend Mrs. Mart was chaperoning Mina Vane, and Gertrude and she affiliated at once as girls of eighteen will, while Ralph left Mrs. Mart and myself to talk over old times while he buried himself in the whirr and buzz of the machinery.
Sophy and I had not met for years and had much to talk over, and our pleasure of meeting was increased when we found we were within an easy ride from each other, both living in the well-abused State of New Jersey.
Sophy told me Mina was staying with her for the summer, or in fact until she could find some suitable employment; her father had lied leaving her, his motherless girl, almost penniless, after having squandered his money in recklessness and extravagance.
Her story was so sad that I could but be full of sympathy for Mina, and yet I cannot honestly say I ever liked her. I have a prejudice against one complexion -- tawny hair and green-gray eyes, and Mina had them. I confessed her beauty and charm, and yet my foolish prejudice caused a distrust of which I was so ashamed that I imparted my feeling to no one. But as the summer went on, and Mina was almost as often at our house as at Mrs. Mart's, my feeling towards her became almost one of dislike. Sweet as she seemed, I felt sure she was naturally a vixen. Had she even once given way to passion or temper I should have liked her better. I knew it was in her; I saw it in the gleam of her eye, her compressed lips, and I knew her unvaried sweetness was assumed. In vain I told myself I was soured, that my own colorless and disappointed life made me jealous of any one who stepped into the sunlight I was now enjoying - and she did this to some extent. There was nearly twenty years' difference between my age and Gertrude's, and so no wonder the child felt Mina a more suitable confidante and companion than her poor old Mildred — and yet I had sufficed!
And even Ralph! Ralph did not call on me to sing when Mina was by. I almost lived over again the old buried agony of my life when I saw how little I was after all to those two dear ones. But this was jealousy, mean jealousy: I told myself so.
Of course Gertrude had the story of her love to tell Mina; and all the dear trifles that it was so sweet to talk of, which she might feel were rather boring to me, were new to her new friend. And yet she need not have looked farther for a sympathiser: was not Robert Lane the very man I would have chosen for her? Ugly Robert! perhaps it was because as a boy he had been neglected and laughed at, that my heart had gone out to him. He seemed to have grown up so unloved, like myself, and bore his fashionable mother's indifference, his sister's scorn, with such quiet good-humor, that I loved him as a sister should have done; and when I saw him watching my dear Gertrude so wistfully, and yet so hopelessly, I did all I could to encourage him. I played a matchmaker's part in that affair, and surpassed myself by my intriguing qualities; and the end was that Gertrude loved him as dearly as a woman could. I believe his ugliness only made him dearer to her ; I noticed she looked disparagingly on manly beauty now.
Robert had been away a good deal since his engagement, on railway busineșs, and he was now in Europe ; but when he came back they were to be very soon married. No wonder my poor Gertrude loved to take about her lover, and I tried to feel glad that she was so delighted with Mina.
As for my cousin, he seemed to care for Mina next to his own daughter. He took to giving her presents with Gertrude, and taking them about together, and indeed she often went now in my place; and yet with all my sad-hearted jealousy I never saw what was coming upon us. Blind fool that I was !
The dismal truth came upon us one bright morning early in the year.
Ralph and I were sitting, our feet on the fender, by the bright fire. Shall I ever forget it -- that fire and the snow without? How cheerful and bright it was all looking when my cousin said, stirring the fire:
"I suppose this wedding will come off pretty soon after Robert gets back?"
Robert was coming in April. “Yes," I said, somewhat surprised at the remark; "too soon for
You will miss Gertrude very much, but not more than I.” “I shall miss her of course, but perhaps it is as well that she is to be married soon.”
Something in the tone, a confusion of manner, made me stare in astonishment. Ralph had never spoken in this matter-of-fact way of his darling's leaving him, but I was not to be long left in doubt.
“Mildred, would you be much surprised to hear that I was about to -- to change my condition?"
A second time in my life must that pain be endured! Ah! but he must not suspect my secret. I dared not trust myself to speak, nor was there need. The ice once broken, Ralph told all.
“You see, Mildred, I am only forty; not a very old man after all. I had never intended to marry ; but when Gertrude has gone, it would be dreary enough for us both, while with Mina we shall be a lively, and, I hope, a happy trio."
“Mina!” I gasped. Happily he mistook my agitation. “Yes," he said apologetically. “You are of course surprised. She
is very young: twenty years younger than I ; but I am not the first man who has marrieď a woman younger than himself and been happy.”
I got up to leave the room - how cheerless it looked now! - and managed to walk steadily from it. My secret was safe. But how cruel! how cruel !
I am not writing my own story, or I should tell how I came to be thirty-seven and unmarried. Heaven knows I had not expected Ralph would give me the love at that age that I had not been able to win in my early girlhood, or I should never have been an inmate of his house; and for the five years of my life that I had devoted to him and Gertrude, no idea of his ever forgetting his lost Lucy in mine or any one else's favor had ever appeared possible. And though my love, my foolish old-woman's love, as I scornfully told myself, had slumbered so easily, the wound was reopened - ah! with how much greater pain! I was so absorbed in my own grief that I had forgotten Gertrude. Poor Gertrude! She saw soon enough how she had been made the tool of Mina. That enterprising young lady had no doubt concluded that as Mr. Foy's wife she would be vastly better off than as somebody else's governess, and had played her cards accordingly: Nothing could exceed the sweetness of her manner when she found we were informed of her position.
Gertrude or I could not dissemble with her or appear pleased at the state of affairs, neither did we do aught that should seem to reproach Mr. Foy, as indeed we had no right. But he knew the stepmother he was going to give his daughter was no longer the dear friend she had been ; and whether Mina had any influence in the matter or not I cannot guess, but his manner to Gertrude gradually changed, until at last the passionate affection he had always shown to her appeared transferred to Mina, who smiled with her sweet false smile as persistently as ever. But I surprised one or two tigerish gleams that made me very thankful for my dear girl's sake that she would soon pass into another's keeping.
Gertrude suffered and drooped under the growing coldness of her father; but Robert was coming, and that was to her a glimpse of heaven. And I suffered, and could not dare to show it; and so if I was cold and silent when my heart longed to cry out in its pain, it was no doubt attributed by Ralph to sulks, and by Mina to disappointment at having to resign to her my position as housekeeper.
She probably whispered something of the sort to Ralph, for he told me his house should ever be my home, and that his marriage could make so little difference to me that I should only exchange Gertrude for Mina as a companion. I smiled bitterly. His house my home with her in it! How blind men are! Gertrude's mother had been dear to me, and I could have given up my best for her, and did; but not for Mina.
Meanwhile Ralph went on worshipping his new love, and Gertrude waited for Robert.
At last he came, and we had one sympathiser in our pain and shame, for Gertrude was ashamed to see lier noble father the slave of a young girl.
Robert was surprised and indignant. He had not seen Mina then, but of course she very soon came, and then I trembled anew. Mina was looking lovelier than I had ever seen her. Had she not been engaged, I should have thought she had dressed to make a conquest of Gertrude's lover. What sorcery was there about her! Robert's eyes followed her every movement as I had seen my cousin's do, and to Gertrude he was absent and inattentive. Mina could not help trying to captivate men, I believe, and this night she certainly seemed bent on subjugating Robert. Ralph looked uneasy as he saw her play off on another the little arts that had been so successful with himself, and Robert went down before her without a struggle.
When we separated for the night I tried to think it was only a passing weakness on his part, that he would return to his allegiance to-morrow. Gertrude turned as she was going into her room to wish me good-night; I pressed her hand, and I suppose my eyes showed the sympathy I felt, but for once she looked at me defiantly, and wishing me a quiet good-night, went into her room without staying for our usual little gossip. Poor child! I understood her; she would not admit a possibility of her or my fears being true.
Next day I was glad we had not spoken of Robert, for in the afternoon when Ralph brought Mina to look at improvements he was making for her, Robert treated her as he would any other lady, and in spite of various arts to divert his attention to herself, he went on reading to me and Gertrude, who looked at me triumphantly.
When she had gone, and Gertrude had left the room, I said:
“Do you recognise Ralph Foy in this infatuated man? What he can see in the girl I cannot imagine.”
“Oh you are a woman : that girl is a siren! A sorceress, I tell
you ! ”
He spoke with energy and passion. Had she bewitched him, and he was struggling against her?
"More like a viper," I said bitterly. “Yes, and a viper too.”
Gertrude entered the room, and no more was said. But I was again uneasy, and before long had sad reason for anxiety. There was evidently something going on between Mina and Robert. I had seen him twice meet her, evidently by appointment, and when they supposed they would not be seen, and after each meeting Mina was strangely silent for her, and looked at Robert with appealing eyes. I felt sure the younger, though uglier, man had made her regret her engagement, and it would not have surprised me to have found that they had both been false to their plighted word.
But Robert! How could I think it of Robert? And yet I could not doubt the evidence of my eyes.
My poor Gertrude, too, was conscious of a change. She had seen Mina speak softly but too familiarly to Robert, and his low answers, many trifles went to show her her lover's heart was hers no longer. At first she seemed determined to ignore the truth, and I did not speak to her about it; but one night I saw her pale and with difficulty suppressing her tears, and when I kissed her she threw herself into my arms.
“My dear, I have but you now. Oh, why was she not satisfied with taking my father from me? But Robert! my dear Robert !”
“Hush, dear; Robert is not worthy of you."
A few days later Ralph had taken the pony-carriage to fetch Mina to drive, and Gertrude and I walked out. The fresh spring-day was inviting, and we walked on till we came to a grove that was one of our favorite haunts in summer. We were not very cheerful, and sat silently watching the —
“ Shadows dark and silver sheen
Alternate come and go.” All at once Gertrude said in a quiet depressed voice, “Look yonder, Mildred.”
I did look, and saw Robert and Mina approaching; she was flushing and crying. Gertrude had risen from the mound on which we sat, and taking my arm, said hastily:
“ Let us go."
And we went through the trees unobserved by them.
It was plain the meeting had been planned between them. I knew she had arranged to drive with Ralph, and had doubtless appointed the time, when she knew he would be safe driving to Mrs. Mart's, to meet Robert.
“My poor Gertrude !” I said, not knowing how to comfort her.
“It is too horrible to believe,” she said, with a dry sob; “but let us wait till to-night. When Robert comes I will know all."
That night Robert did not come.
I went to bed with a presentiment of evil in my heart. My sympathy with my dear Gertrude was so strong that I think it helped to deaden my own pain ; her cause for grief was so much greater than mine. She had been supplanted in her father's affection, and her acknowledged lover was a traitor; in that lay the cruelest sting to a sensitive heart; while I had only to mourn my own folly — no one had wronged
I was scarcely surprised when Sophy Mart came soon after breakfast next morning in a state of great consternation.
“What do you think, Mildred ? Mina has gone!”
I could never have believed any one could be so ungrateful.”
I could not sympathise with Sophy's distress, as I considered privately she had caused some of the mischief by her love of matchmaking.
“When did she go?” I asked abruptly.
“This morning, I suppose. When I came down the girl told me Miss Vane had gone out very early and left this note.”
She handed me the note, which ran as follows:
“ DEAREST MRS. MART :
“Circumstances over which I have no control, to use a hackneyed term, compel me to go South to-day, and to leave your house in what may appear a very thankless manner. All I can do is to thank you for all your goodness, and hope you will think the best you can of me."