Westward Journey

Excerpt from “Mable Vaughan” 1857

By Maria Cummins

     The morning of departure came. The landlord of the hotel had been summoned, and on Mabel’s expressing her regret that her funds were only sufficient for her present wants, had cordially assured her of his perfect readiness to wait Mr. Vaughan’s convenience for the settlement of his accounts and had himself accompanied her to the steamboat. Mrs. Hope was there with shawls over her arm, and parcels in her hand, Jack was there with a huge basket of cakes and candy, provided by his thoughtful mother, Lydia was there, her eyes red with crying, and her hands busy in giving the finishing touch to Murray’s curls, and Owen Dowst was at the further end of the wharf attending to the baggage.

     At length they took their places, Mabel and the boys in the centre of the deck, where they were protected by an ample awning, and Owen modestly choosing a seat at the stern of the boat, where, without intrusion, he could keep the little party in sight. The bell rang and they moved off, -- Jack waved his cap, Mrs. Hope cried out “Good-bye,” and Lydia timidly threw a kiss, -- not at Mabel, however, or the boys, but in response to one from the stern of the vessel, where Owen stood, leaning over the railing, and looking backward with a tear in his honest eye.

     The first day’s journey passed without any important incident. The weather, which had promised to be fair, soon became dull, and at length a pouring rain drove the passengers to the cabin, where for many successive hours, they were crowded together, deprived of fresh air, and with no prospect of being able to venture on deck again.

     Here all Mabel’s powers were called into action, for the diversion and entertainment of Murray, whose restlessness could ill brook the restraint to which he was subjected in the ladies’ saloon, and who continually threatened to stray beyond its limits. Fortunately, however, Owen, who had stationed himself in the vicinity of the door, contrived to decoy him to a place on his knee, and amused and entertained him there until the bell-sounded for dinner. While watching the good-natured youth, as he cut an apple into a fanciful shape, or whittled a figure from a bit of wood, the child was completely happy, an Mabel was freed from all anxiety concerning him.

     These ingenious and friendly devices, however, though not lost on Alick, had no power to win him from his position beside Mabel, where, with the basket of provisions at his feet, and his arm passed through the handle of the carpet bag, he sat upright and firm as a sentinel at his post. Whether Father Noah’s exhortation, to “behave like a little man” still influenced him, or whether he felt a proud and instinctive consciousness of being in some degree his aunt’s protector, he manifested no sign of weariness, and never once during the day uttered a single complaint.

     They dinned and supped on board the boat, the thoughtful Owen having secured a seat, and recommended them to the care of one of the waiters, whom he chanced to know, and with whom he afterwards took his own repast at the second table.

     But although the gentle motion of the boat, the comparative privacy of the ladies’ cabin, and the respectful devotion of her attendant, contrived to render the first day’s experience satisfactory to Mabel, and soothing to her anxieties, the interval between the arrival of the party in Albany and their departure in the night-train for Buffalo, was replete with those incidents which constitute the trials of the traveler, and render journeying an uncertain and hazardous experiment. The boat was late at the wharf, there was some delay and difficulty in the distribution of baggage, noise and confusion prevailed in every direction, and before Owen could collect his own boxes and Mabel’s trunks, the carriages, loaded with passengers for the cars, had all driven off. Among the coaches that remained, all had one or more occupants bound in a different direction, and none of the drivers would agree to reach the station in season for the western train. Mabel’s countenance betrayed her agitation and alarm, Alick looked piteously from one rough face to another, and Murray, dimly comprehending that something was the matter, as usual began to cry.

     “Look here -- I say,” cried Owen, catching a burly, round-faced fellow by the button, and glancing significantly towards Mabel, “do not disappoint that lady, now, -- it’s too bad, -- her folks were hurt, -- one on ‘em killed by that bad accident last week, -- and she’s a goin’ out there to her father, -- don’t you be the means of her losin’ the train.”

     What a revulsion of feeling such an appeal will oftentimes produce. “Do tell,” said the man. “Now that’s a case. Hullo, Sam, have those trunks up here, will yer? Give a hand, boy, -- her father” (in his turn nodding at Mabel) “was killed on the cars last week. Look here, you,” speaking to a gayly dressed fop inside, who, seeing his valise unceremoniously thrown to the sidewalk, was already preparing to alight, “this gentleman,” (waving his hand toward Sam) “will take you up to the hotel, I’m bound to get these ‘tother folks down to the Buffalo cars, in with you, Bub,” and he lifted Alick, basket, carpet-bag and all, into the carriage, Mabel and Murray followed, Owen sprang up outside and they were off.

     There are few things more trying to the patience, and more exciting to the nerves, than driving through the crowded streets of a city, with the apprehension that every minute’s delay may be fatal to one’s hopes. During the ten minutes that they were hurrying and rattling over the pavements, Mabel endeavored in vain to quiet her disturbed feelings, and strove, with equal want of success, to soothe the weeping Murray, while Alick silently watched his aunt’s countenance, as if it were the dial-plate of destiny. They were barely in season after all, there was just time for the luggage to be thrown hastily on board, and the last bell was sounding as Owen entered a car, with Murray in his arms, followed by Mabel and Alick, almost breathless with the haste they had made and carrying between them the basket and traveling bag, which Alick could not transport alone, but which the sturdy boy was unwilling to relinquish.

     This little incident served at once to excite Mabel’s anxieties for the future, and to impress her with a sense of her dependence on Owen. She felt sick at heart, as imagination conjured up the possible disasters and delays which might ensue before the termination of the journey, and, as the darkness of the night came on, and a thick gloom settled over every object, an undefined dread took possession of her, and when Murray exclaimed with convulsive sobbing, “Auntie, Murray is tired, -- Murray can’t ride all night,” she was tempted to fold the child to her bosom, and weep with him over their multiplied misfortunes.

     Her weakness was rebuked, however, by the confiding tone in which Alick responded to his brother’s complaint, -- I ain’t tired, Murray,” said he, -- “I wouldn’t mind going anywhere with Aunt Mabel.”

     “I would,” said Murray. “I want to go home.”

     “Let me take him a little while, Miss Vaughan,” said Owen, who had observed his fretfulness, “I see he’s getting pretty uneasy. Will you come and sit by me, Murray?”

     The child hesitated, too thoroughly weary to have any preference.

     “I’ll coax the little fellow off to sleep.” said Owen, lifting him in his strong, arms, and bearing him to his own seat at the further end of the car, where, wrapped in a heavy pilot-cloth coat, and with his head resting on Owen’s shoulder, he soon fell into a quiet slumber. Two or three hours passed away. Alick, despite his efforts to the contrary, had fallen asleep, though still sitting as upright as a grenadier, and Mabel had once or twice forgotten her anxieties, and enjoyed s moment’s repose, when a bright light shone in their faces, and suddenly awakening, they discovered that the train was stopping at a place of some importance, if one might judge by the bustle which pervaded the platform in front of the station. Murray, also, awakened by the noise and lights, ran to his aunt, rubbing his eyes, and petitioning her for something to eat.

     “Milk, too, Auntie -- I must have some milk.” he cried, as she proceeded to open the luncheon basket.

     “No, Murray, I have no milk for you,” was the reply, “a cake will do without milk, won’t it?”

     “I can get him a glass of milk, or some water, at least, Miss Vaughan” said Owen, who was about to leave the car, and paused to offer his services. “the train stops here five minutes -- plenty of time, Miss. I’ll hand it in at the window.”

     “Take my purse, Owen,” said Mabel, “and pay for it, if you please.”

     The milk was brought to the window in a pitcher. Owen had a tumbler in his hand, and all were by turns refreshed with the sweet wholesome beverage. There was still a moment or two of delay at the station -- ample time for the young man to return, pay for the milk, and take-his place in the car. Still, the bell rang, and the train proceeded on its way without his having made his appearance. Mabel looked back with some anxiety, but supposing. that he had entered a rear car and would soon make his way to them, she did not feel any positive alarm and was therefore wholly taken by surprise when a few minutes after, the conductor, as he passed with his lantern in hand, held it up to her face and said inquiringly, "Wasn’t that young fellow in the pilot-cloth coat with you, ma’am?”

     “Yes,” answered Mabel. “why?”

     “He got left behind at the last station.” said the man coolly.

     “Got left!” exclaimed Mabel, repeating his words in astonishment and fright, while Alick groaned aloud and Murray set up a shrill and prolonged cry.

     “Yes, they took some of his boxes out there by mistake, so the baggage-master says, and he caught sight of ‘em and sprung off the platform just as we were starting.”

     “Couldn’t you stop for him?” asked Mabel, in a tone of mingled appeal and reproach.

     “Couldn’t, nohow,” said the man, though speaking in a tone of regret. “we’re behind our time now. If there’s any mistake it ain’t our fault, he couldn’t have had his things marked right in Albany, He’ll come tomorrow, I reckon.”

     “To-morrow,” thought Mabel, “but where shall we be by that time?” and at the same instant the remembrance flashed upon her that he was in possession of her purse, containing all the money she had in the world.

     “What shall I do?” was the involuntary exclamation which burst from her lips as, trembling with agitation, she started up impulsively, then in a despairing manner sank back into her seat.

     “Can’t we go on without him, Auntie?” asked Alick anxiously, while Murray continued to cry, loudly threatening, amid his sobs, to “beat that old conductor, and make him go back for Owen.”

     “Oh, I do not know, Alick, what we shall do.” said Mabel, the self-command which she had hither-to maintained in the presence of the children forsaking her at this unforeseen crisis.

     The interest and compassion of the other passengers were evidently awakened. Many outstretched forms were suddenly raised from recumbent positions, and many sleepy eyes turned in the direction of our little group of travelers, while a murmur of inquiry and response ran through the car. The conductor, however, had passed hastily out with his lantern, and as feeble and expiring light from an ill-trimmed lamp above afforded little satisfaction to curiosity, most of the weary company soon subsided into their former dreamy state of unconsciousness.

     “God will take care of us, Auntie,” said Alick, in a comforting tone, “that old minister said so, and I believe him.”

     “So do I.” answered Mabel, drawing both children as closely to her as possible, and feeling for the second time, rebuked by Alick’s childlike faith -- first in her and now in a higher power.

     At the same instant, a voice proceeding from the seat directly behind them, addressed Mabel in a tone of gentle but earnest inquiry. “I have been asleep, my dear, but, if I understand right, your servant has got left at Utica.”

     “Not my servant, except by free-will, ma’am,” answered Mabel, her face as she turned being brought close to that of the person who was leaning forward to speak to her, but whose features were undistinguishable in the dim light.

     “Oh, I was mistaken, then,” said the lady, apologetically. “I only judged from appearances, when you came into the car at dusk.”

     “Yes, ma’am, it is not strange,” said Mabel, “I don’t wonder at it, he was so kind to the boys and so civil to me. He was a good friend, and we depended upon him, and now, -- now --.”

     Her voice choked, she could not go on.

     The old lady -- for the stranger was advanced in years -- quietly rose, to come forward, and taking the seat beside Mabel from which Alick had risen in the moment of excitement, said kindly, “And do you need a friend now, my dear?”

     Mabel could not answer except by putting her hand into that of the old lady, who pressed it tenderly.

     “Little brothers?” said she, drawing Alick toward her, and gently soothing Murray with the words, “Poor boy! There, don’t cry!”

     “She’s our auntie.“ said Alick, proudly.

     “And where’s mama?”

     “She’s gone to another world.” answered Murray, promptly.

     “She died last Saturday.” whispered Alick.

     Their new friend uttered an exclamation of pity, and, grieved at the result of her natural inquiry, forebore all further questioning.

     “Poor little fellows! you must both be tired,” said she. “Come, I will put you to bed.” And rising, she beckoned to a woman just behind them, and with her assistance proceeded to carry her purpose into execution. “Don’t stir, we will make them very comfortable,” she added as Mabel proposed to assist her. And taking advantage of some vacant seats opposite, she spread upon them her own and the women’s surplus supply of shawls, and in a few moments the exhausted children were disposed of for the rest of the night.

     “My child, you have seen trouble, I fear.” said the benevolent lady, as resuming her seat by Mabel, she passed one arm around the young girl’s waist, and drew her head upon her shoulder.

     Mabel had in some degree, steeled herself against the hardships and trials which she might encounter, but this unexpected kindness wholly overpowered her, the floodgates of her soul were opened, and her tears poured forth like rain. Her judicious comforter did not attempt to restrain her. She well knew the relief it sometimes is to weep, and without interrupting her by a word, suffered her feelings to have vent.

     “Lie still, dear.” said she, as Mabel, having at length become more composed, made a movement to sit upright.

     “You are very good, but I shall fatigue and distress you.”

     “Do not disturb yourself on my account,” was the reply. “I only require a few hours sleep, and I have had that already. I want to see you take some rest.”

     “Oh, I cannot sleep,” said Mabel, “I am too unhappy.”

     “Perhaps I can help you,” said the old lady. “There are two sides to trouble, -- let us try and look at the bright side.”

     “I never gave up so before," said Mabel, “and I know ought not to now, but this seemed too much.”

     “Was this young man so essential to you, then, that you cannot get on without him?”

     “He was very considerate and kind,” said Mabel. “I shall miss him, and so will the boys, but that is not the worst, -- he has got all my money. I gave him my purse to pay for some milk for the children just before he left the cars.”

     “Well, that is bad,” said the old lady, “but not beyond remedy. How far are you expecting to travel?”

     Mabel named the town and county in the eastern part of Illinois, which were her destination.

     “And you were to take the steamer at Buffalo?”

     “Yes, to-morrow night.”

     “There is no boat until the night following, “said the old lady, confidently. “I have made particular inquiries, as I am to pursue the same route myself. So you see Owen will have to join you, and, meanwhile, you shall be under my care, and afterwards, too,” added she, “If you can feel confidence in an old lady who is a stranger to you, but who has seen much of the world, and is an experienced traveler.”

     Mabel thanked her heartily in her own name and the children’s.

     “Do not thank me,” said her kind friend, “the benefit will be mutual. I am fond of young people, and am glad to be of use in the world. If my three score years and ten can afford you comfort and protection, then I have not grown old in vain.”

     “Oh, I cannot tell you the relief it will be, if you will only let me keep within sight of you.” exclaimed Mabel, eagerly. Then, as she recalled the lady’s previous allusion to her being a stranger, she added, with simple candor, at the same time lifting her head, and speaking with great earnestness, “But you are very good, Ma’am, to feel confidence in me. It must seem strange to you, that I should be traveling so far, with the charge of these children, and dependent myself upon a young man who is not of my own station in life.”

     “Yes, a little singular, perhaps,” answered the lady, “but no more so than many things which admit of an easy explanation, or, even if I were still left to wonder at the circumstances, it would not deter me from offering my aid to one who seems to need it.”

     “May I tell you how it happened?” asked Mabel.

     “Certainly, my child, if you please to do so. Tell me anything that you feel willing to confide to one old enough to be a safe, but not too old to be a sympathizing friend.”

     Thus encouraged, Mabel suffered her head to drop once more upon the shoulder of the tall and strongly-framed, though venerable lady, and in the darkness of the night and amid the hush which prevailed among the sleepers who were stretched around, she poured into her willing ear, in a low and broken voice, the story of her recent family bereavements, and the sufferings, responsibilities, perplexities, which had ensued. Her bitterest grief and anxieties were such, indeed, as can be breathed only in the ear of Heaven, but the partial revelation which she made was enough and more than enough to excite all the tender compassion of her aged friend, as was evidently from the gentle expressions of condolence which escaped her, and the affectionate solicitude with which she drew a cloak around the, weary girl, and now and then pressed her closer to her side. So sweet, indeed, was this welcome assurance of protection and sympathy, that, at length, the tale being ended, and the aching heart, in some measure, relieved of its burden, tired nature asserted its claims, and a soft and refreshing sleep stole over Mabel’s senses.

     It was daylight when she awoke. The sun was streaming through the car most of the passengers were sitting bolt up-right in their seats, their firm attitudes seeming to defy anyone who should accuse them of having slept a wink on the journey, and the whole scene was so different from that which had prevailed a few hours before, that Mabel could not for a moment realize where she was, or whether the events of the previous night had not all been a dream. There could be nothing imaginary, however, in the friendly shoulder on which her head was comfortably pillowed, nor could anything be more kind and cordial than the smile which reassured her, as starting up she suddenly exclaimed, “Why, how long have I lain here! How I must have tired you!”

     “No, you have not tired me in the least. I am rejoiced that you have slept so long, how do you feel this morning, my dear?”

     But Mabel did not seem to heed the kind inquiry. Her eyes were fixed earnestly on the face of her new friend, while a glow of pleasure radiated her features. There could be no mistaking that benevolent countenance, that dignified form, those silver curls peeping from the snowy fluting of the widow’s cap, above all that cheering and animating smile, and, snatching the hand of the good lady, Mabel pressed it to her lips, exclaiming, “You are not a stranger after all! I have seen you before, you are Mrs. Abraham Percival!

     “Do you know me then?” was the reply, “That is pleasant, I have been studying your face, my dear, and thought it seemed familiar, but you must help my memory a little. I cannot recall the name.”

     “Mabel Vaughan, but perhaps you have never heard the whole name.”

     “We shall soon be in Buffalo, my dear.” said Madam Percival at length, leaning forward and laying her hand on Mabel’s shoulder, to attract her attention.

     Mabel, thus suddenly roused from a sad and painful reverie, into which she had fallen, a train of thought superinduced no doubt by the disclosures and coincidences of the morning, started, turned, and said, in an abstracted manner, “Yes, and what shall we do then?”

     Whatever you like, my poor, tired child, you need rest and refreshment for body and mind. I was thinking where we could best find it.”

     “Wherever you please” Said Mabel, “I shall be only too contented and thankful to stay with you.”

     “Have you ever been to Niagara?”

     “Never, ma’am,” answered Mabel, with a slight tremulousness in her voice, at the mention of a spot she had once so yearned to visit, but which was now associated with many a bitter memory.

     “We shall have twenty-four hours to spare before the steam boat leaves,” said Madam Percival, “I have consulted my little friend here (and she tapped with her spectacles the railroad guide which she held in her hand), and find that we can, if we choose, proceed directly to Niagara, and remain there until within a few hours of the boat’s sailing, It will be an uncomfortable night in the city, I am well known at the Cataract House, and we shall be sure of every outward comfort, to say nothing of the inexpressible pleasure of having a glimpse at the Falls. Do you like the plan?”

     “I do not know,” said Mabel, hesitatingly. “I would rather you should decide.”

     “You can scarcely be expected to have any preference under the circumstances, my dear,” said Madam Percival, laying her hand anxiously on Mabel’s flushed cheek, “but I am convinced there could be, no better prescription for you than the one I recommend.” The boys require rest and fresh cool air to invigorate them after the journey, but you need something more, it is the tired heart and brain which sends this feverish blood to your cheek, rather than physical fatigue, though you have had your share of that. You are my guests for the present, -- my adopted children I would say, -- -and so l feel myself at liberty to study your wants, and endeavor to supply them. Besides,” added she, with a persuasive smile and tone, which made it almost appear that she was begging, instead of conferring a favor, “we old folks, who pride ourselves on our experience, love to try our favorite remedies, so, if you leave the decision to me, we will keep on to Niagara, and risk the additional fatigue in consideration of the benefit we hope to derive from the effort.”

     Comprehending at once the disinterestedness of the scheme to divert her troubled mind from the contemplation of its sorrows, Mabel hastened to deprecate the idea of her aged friend’s incurring any unnecessary fatigue on her account, but Madam Percival assured her that she never suffered from the affects of traveling, and that in the present case, the necessity for one day’s delay rendered the temptation to visit the Falls irresistible, apart from the satisfaction it would be to introduce her young friends to one of the grandest wonders of nature, in which, as Americans, they had all a common birthright.

     So the excursion was determined on, and night found them established in a comfortable hotel, where, within hearing of the roar of the mighty cataract, they all experienced the welcome refreshment and repose which weary travelers crave.

     At an early hour, the next morning, a pleasant voice was heard outside Mabel’s door, saying, softly, “Are you awake, my dear?” and was answered by Mabel’s presenting herself, already dressed and equipped for going out.

     “You are on the alert, I see,” said Madam Percival, who also wore her bonnet and shawl, as if prepared for a walk. “I thought I heard your step in the room, or I would not have disturbed you, how have you slept?”

     “Very soundly until daylight, but then I awoke, and hearing the noise of the Falls, could not resist going out to see them before breakfast.”

     “Ah, you are a girl after my own heart,” said madam Percival, drawing Mabel’s arm through hers. “I have left word with my woman, Mrs. Patten, to go in and attend to the children’s wants, whenever they awake, so you need feel no anxiety about them.” and the old and the young lady left the hotel together.

     “This is the direction leading to the bridge over the rapids,” said Madam Percival, when they had gained a side street. "I see an old acquaintance of mine, that Indian woman, just opening her little store of wares over opposite -- she knows me,” and Madam Percival bowed in kindly recognition to the dusky squaw, whose face was full of eagerness. “I must go and speak to her. Do not wait for me, I will overtake you.” Thus speaking, Madam Percival crossed the road leading to bridge, and Mabel proceeded alone.

     How tumultuous and how mingled was the rushing tide of thought which assailed her during that short, lonely walk! The time the place, the solitude -- how suggestive were they all! How many of her childhood’s hopes, her girlish anticipations had centered around Niagara! How fondly had she looked forward to this fulfillment of her early dreams! How little had she foreseen the cruel chain of circumstances which had brought her to the spot at last, disappointed, forsaken, and bereaved. A moment more, and, in the stillness of the morning, for the sun had not yet risen, she found herself alone on the bridge, beneath which flowed the angry torrent. Panting from exercise, breathless with her own agitating reflections, and dumb with astonishment and awe, she stood, with parted lips, gazing up that gigantic slope, down which, in wild and frantic speed, the waters were hastening to their fearful plunge. Whence came they and whither did they go -- those mad, triumphant waves -- which, scorning all opposition and beating down all obstacles, seemed like the very messengers of doom! An instinctive dread took possession of Mabel’s mind, as, gazing long and fixedly at those witnesses to God’s power and majesty, she saw in them types of those recent events which, bearing down like a mighty flood and overwhelming her beneath a torrent of trouble, had left her to struggle helplessly with the current. “All They waves and Thy billows have gone over me, Great God.” she exclaimed aloud, at length withdrawing her gaze from a scene whose sublime and solemn grandeur was, to the excited girl, almost lost in a nervous sense of terror.

     Then, as the roar still continued sounding in her ears, an irresistible impulse seized her to hasten on and witness the end, which, at the present, she could image to herself only as a dire catastrophe, and, as if fearful that, by a moment’s delay, she should lose something of the awful spectacle which she half longed, half dreaded to behold, she commenced running, and without pausing to take breath, continued at the same rapid pace until she suddenly gained an elevated point, where, at a glance, she could discern the two rival divisions of the far-famed cataract. She gazed for an instant only, at the dark and angry waters, on which the sun, now just below the verge of the horizon, had not yet shed his beam, and which, as they plunged down the fearful vortex, seemed to her bewildered senses to utter only a message of stern and angry wrath, then throwing herself on the ground, with her face hid against a huge overhanging rock, she burst into a fit of passionate and uncontrollable weeping. Her excited feelings having thus found vent, however, and her strained nerves being relieved by this free and natural outburst, she soon became more calm, and at length lay quite still, listening, without terror, to the roar of the waters, when, suddenly, she heard, close beside her, in measured and familiar accents, the solemn words, “And I heard, as it were, the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying Alleluia, for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”

     There was a pause, then a long-drawn sigh escaped Mabel, and attracted the attention of Madam Percival, who had not until then perceived her.

     “What! Are you here before me, and in my favorite spot, my child?” exclaimed she, then seeing the despairing attitude and covered face of Mabel, and at once conjecting that, in the weak state of her nervous system she had been overcome by the scene, she sat down beside her and said in a self reproving tone, “Ah, I should not have let you come here alone.”

     “It frightens me,” said Mabel, with a shudder. “I should not have minded the fall so much, -- but those dreadful rapids!” and again a slight shudder passed over her frame. “It seemed as if everything were pouring down at once just as -- just as --.”

     “Just as trouble comes upon us poor mortals, as you would say, my dear.”

     “Yes, I could not help thinking of myself.”

     “I have often had the same thought,” said Madam Percival, soothingly, “but I have also found here a lesson of faith and hope, which has fortified me in the hour of trouble, and which I trusted you would have learned here, too. Often we are borne through the rushing waves of anxiety, suspense, and pain, and plunged at last down the gulf of a mighty sorrow, but let us not be faithless or despairing. He who has meted out the bounds of the earth has said to human suffering, as to the mighty torrent, ‘Thus far shalt thou go and no farther,’ and even amid the shock of a great calamity we know that the raging torrent of affliction is spanned by the rainbow of his love. Look up, my dear, look up.”

     Mabel lifted her head quickly, as her attention was thus earnestly claimed, and above the watery abyss, which a few moments before had been so dark and fearful, a glorious rainbow danced and quivered in the beams of the newly-risen sun, and, as the glittering spray caught and reflected the rays of light in the new forms of radiance, another and another brilliant arch stretched its graceful curve across the foaming flood.

     A smile of joy flashed out from Mabel’s face, effecting in it a transformation scarcely less striking than that which had so suddenly been wrought in the face of nature, she clasped her hands, and stood for some moments in a rapt and serene silence.

     Madam Percival watched the play of her features with affectionate interest and as the anxious and troubled expression of her countenance was gradually superseded by a glow of a Heavenly peace, she said in a low and fervent tone, “Ah, my child, it is only when the light of the Sun of righteousness comes to illuminate our darkened hearts, that we can comprehend the love of Him who is continually confirming His ancient promise -- It shall come to pass when I bring a cloud over the earth that the bow shall be seen in the cloud.”

     “I have realized it many times,” said Mabel, eagerly, “I realize it now.”

     “It is shining in your face, my love,” said Madam Percival. “come, let us go back to the hotel, and cheer with it the little orphan hearts which must look to you hence forward to be the sunshine of their lives.”

     “Is it not grand? Is it not encouraging and ennobling?” said Madam Percival, when, some hours later they sat together on the flat surface of Table Rock, watching the gigantic waters of the Horse Shoe Falls. “In the course of a long life, I have visited this spot many times, and I have invariably gone away refreshed and strengthened, as if I had been listening to the voice of a sacred oracle. Especially when the chastening of God’s providence was heavy upon me, have I been cheered by this glorious proclamation of the truth that His power goes hand in hand with His love.”

     “I cannot thank you enough for bringing me here,” said Mabel -- “it is a remembrance for a life-time.”

     “I confess,” said the old lady, “my first thought was merely to divert your mind from dwelling too fixedly on your recent trials. I did not realize how fully you were open to impressions from nature. Now I cannot be too thankful for the prompting which bade me lead you to the school of high thoughts and noble purpose. God grant, my child, that your young life, sanctified by the divine blessing, may flow on in as strong, deep, and tranquil a current, as that of this noble river, whose strong waters, hence forth forward, with only now and then a temporary interruption, sweep calmly on to the eternal ocean. You, indeed, need moral courage and strength, my child, for it is a noble mission which you have before you.”

     “You mean the care of the children.” said Mabel, observing that Miss Percival’s eye was fixed upon the boys, who were playing at a little distance.

     “Yes, -- the training of these young minds and hearts is an office of true dignity and greatness, and one in which you have all my sympathy. I, too, have ‘educated boys, and my work is not yet finished. If I read those little fellows’ characters right, your responsibility is as great as your influence is unbounded. That eldest child loves you with a devotion which I have rarely seen equaled in one of his years. It is through that love that he must learn to cherish those universal sympathies, in which I suspect him to be deficient, and that happy, affectionate, beautiful, spoiled plaything yonder, who is at this moment attracting the attention of strangers will develop impulses and propensities of so wide a range, that all the ardor of his nature must be early taught to concentrate itself on the pure, the elevated, and the good. Remember, my dear that your counsels may rule in many generations of hearts, and if the thought will add sanctity to your office, cherish the belief that the principles you instill, may help to mold the future fortunes of this free republic.”

     A shade of earnest thought and holy resolution was stamped on Mabel’s attentive face, as, with her eyes intently fixed on the children, she listened to the solemn charge of her experienced and venerable friend. It would have been difficult to pronounce which was the nobler countenance of the two, that of the benevolent and Christian matron who uttered the words of warning and of wisdom, or that of the enthusiastic and truth-loving girl, into whose heart they sunk with a deep and lasting power. Madam Percival gazed into the earnest face of Mabel, and her heart warmed anew towards her, as she read in every expressive feature a hopeful prophesy for the future, a prophecy which after years saw gloriously fulfilled.

     We pass over the departure from Niagara, after a visit which, though brief, was memorable to at least two of the little company, between whom there had, then and there, been sealed the compact of a friendship, rendered the more sacred by the wide difference in their years, All were refreshed and strengthened for continuing the journey and the joy of the children, and the relief and satisfaction of Mabel were complete, when, at the steamboat wharf at Buffalo, they met Owen, who, poor fellow, had suffered the most intense anxiety on their account, and who at once became a sharer in their gratitude to Madam Percival, as was evident from his clumsy but honest expression of thanks, and still more from his unwearied and deferential services to her during the remainder of the journey. “Upon my word, ma’am,” said he, “when I found they were off, and nobody to see to ‘em, I was e’en a’most crazed, and when, to crown the whole, I found Miss Vaughan’s purse in my pocket, I believe I went clean mad. Why, I’d fired one of the engines and come after on my own hook, but t’was no use, I just had to cool down and learn patience by waitin’. But I see, and bless the lord for it, too, the young lady wa’n’t without a protector, nor never will be in this world, I’ve a notion, -- sartin not if she has her deserts, and I make bold to thank you for your goodness on my own account, ma’am, and for the relief it is to my conscience,” and taking off his hat and bowing, as he had been wont to bow to Rosy, he drew back a step and added, “Owen Dowst’s your servant for life, ma’am!” Madam Percival was one who could appreciate the simplicity and worth of Mabel’s humble escort, and before their travels together were at an end, he had learned to look upon this lady, as almost everyone did who came under her influence, as a reliable friend. She talked intelligently with him of farms, stock and crops, gave him much valuable information regarding Western life, and when he finally ventured to consult her with reference to the investment of his little property, she entered into his scheme with as ready an interest as if she had been a professed land-agent and he a wealthy speculator.

     Thus all went on happily and harmoniously, and Mabel, with Madam Percival for her counselor and friend, Owen as the devoted attendant of herself and the children, and Mrs. Patton, who shared all the interests of her beloved mistress, to minister to her wants, and relieve her of little cares, found her formidable journey drawing to a safe conclusion, and almost sighed as she thought how soon she must part from these valued and tried friends of her adversity.

     The last night of their sojourn in each other’s company was passed on board a canal-boat. The children had gone to sleep in the cabin, Mrs. Patton was watching beside them. Owen, at the stern of the boat, was giving voluntary aid in the stowing of some freight, and Madam Percival and Mabel were seated on the deck, holding the last of those pleasant and valuable conversations which they had enjoyed together.

     “I am glad you like this Western country,” said Madam Percival, “and that you do not feel discouraged by its yet rough and undeveloped character. It is a great field, and one in which comparatively little has been accomplished. You will find much that is strange, uncouth, and utterly at variance with all your preconceived ideas, but to a noble mind there is a satisfaction in overcoming difficulties, and every effort is sure to find its reward in a land which makes such a rich return for the labor bestowed on it.”

     “It excites all my enthusiasm,” said Mabel. “I have felt, a hundred times on our journey, as if I would gladly stop short at any given point, and remain a year or more, to watch the progress which could almost be seen in passing, and of which I hear such wonderful accounts on every side.”

     “Say rather,” said Madam Percival, “to take part in that progress, do not consider yourself excluded by your age or sex from exerting an active influence on the growth and true civilization of any spot in which you are either temporarily or permanently a resident. In a country whose physical development is so unexampled as this, too much effort cannot be made to insure a proportionate advance in moral and spiritual growth. It may be that your influence and example must be confined to a narrow circle, but do not forget that, however restricted may be your sphere, it is woman’s peculiar privilege and province to exert that softening, elevating, purifying spirit, which sanctifies the ruder labors of life, and sheds abroad in the community a nobler ambition than that of building cities in the wilderness, and subduing the elements to human will. Above all, my dear, do not consider your life in the West a period of exile, This is but a part of your mother country, destined, in tine perhaps to become in its influence, what it already is in its locality, -- the centre and heart of the republic.”

     “I am already accustoming myself,” said Mabel, “to look upon it as my future home, for such it may eventually become.”

     “Make it a home, my dear,” said Madam Percival, “for yourself and your family, at least, while you remain in it, give it your affection and your best efforts, -- it is the only way to render it a happy residence or a useful one. I have homes in several parts of our country, and it would be hard for me to say which I love best, it is now fifteen years since I accompanied my husband into this unsettled region. He was one of the pioneers of civilization, and the affection which I then conceived for this Western valley has continued in full force ever since. It has been with great satisfaction that I have made successive pilgrimages hither, and now that I have come to finish my days, perhaps, in this land of promise, I do not feel willing to consider it the home of my adoption but simply my native soil.”

     “If you were only to be near me,” said Mabel, “it would be such a comfort, your counsel would be so precious.”

     “Forty miles is not counted a very great distance in this part of the world, my dear, and that, as nearly as I can judge, is the distance between your father’s estate and that of my son. My hand, owing to one of the infirmities of age, has recently been disabled from writing, but I shall find a way one of these days, to communicate with my young friend, and shell always be rejoiced to hear from you in return. But, good night, I will not keep you up any longer to listen to an old woman’s preaching.”

     Before morning they had reached the bustling Western city where their united route terminated. Mabel and the children took passage in the clumsy carriage in which they were to commence their last day’s journey, Owen set out for another part of the country, and Madam Percival, having seen her adopted charges on their way, proceeded to the house of a friend, where she was to await her son’s arrival in the city.

     It was a cold, rainy, and uncomfortable evening, when, with the horses weary and steaming, and the children exhausted with cold and fatigue, Mabel, almost hopeless of ever reaching their destination, which had seemed all day to recede as they advanced, at length heard from their driver the joyful words, “That ‘er’s Mr. Vaughan’s house where you see the light over there.”

     “Don’t Cry, we are almost there, Murray!” she exclaimed encouragingly, to the poor weeping child, who, sadly feeling the want of Madam Percival’s shawls and Owen’s pilot-cloth coat, was shivering with the cold, from which all Mabel’s care could ill protect him, and who, hungry, dissatisfied, and out of humor, had complained and cried bitterly for the last half hour. “Look over there, beyond the river -- that is grandpa’s house, you will soon see him and Uncle Harry.”

     “I don’t want to see them! I hate this place! I won’t stay here!” sobbed Murray.

     “It will be better than riding all night, though, Murray, won’t it?” said Alick, in the same patient, philosophical tone which the little man had maintained from the commencement of the journey.

     “Ye’ll have to get out here and step up a piece,” said the driver, halting within a few rods of the house, “My road turns off here to the post-office, and these horses are dead beat, that’s a fact.”

     Mabel needed no second bidding, she was only too glad to trust to her own feet, to which eagerness lent wings, and in an instant more, with Murray in her arms and Alick close beside her, she hastened in the direction of the light, opened the unlocked door of the house, and entered. She found herself in a dark passage, and was groping for the inner door, when it was suddenly thrown open, and with a cry of joy, she set Murray on the floor, and flung her arms around the neck of her astonished brother.

     Had it been the ghost of Mabel instead of Mabel herself, it could have created no greater surprise and consternation. Mr. Vaughan, who was sitting in an arm-chair by the fire, turned his head-as Harry uttered her name, and seeing his daughter before him, became pale, tried twice to rise from his seat, then sank back as if seized by sudden giddiness, while a look of deep distress passed over his haggard features.

     “Mabel here!” was his exclamation.


"The Scribbling Women"
Copyright ~ Estate of Andre Norton
Online Rights - Andre-Norton-Books.com
Donated by - Estate of Andre Norton

 Digitized and edited by Jay Watts aka: “Lots-a-watts” ~ May 2015

Duplication (in whole or parts) of this story for profit of any kind NOT permitted.