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Page 36

8. VIII.

When Mr. Pendexter had finished his discourse,
and pronounced his last benediction upon
a congregation to whose spiritual wants he had
ministered for so many years, his people, now his
no more, returned home in very various states of
mind. Some were exasperated, others mortified,
and others filled with pity.

Among the last was Alice Archer,—a fair,
delicate girl, whose whole life had been saddened
by a too sensitive organization, and by somewhat
untoward circumstances. She had a pale, transparent
complexion, and large gray eyes, that
seemed to see visions. Her figure was slight,
almost fragile; her hands white, slender, diaphanous.
With these external traits her character
was in unison. She was thoughtful, silent, susceptible;
often sad, often in tears, often lost in


Page 37
reveries. She led a lonely life with her mother,
who was old, querulous, and nearly blind. She
had herself inherited a predisposition to blindness;
and in her disease there was this peculiarity, that
she could see in Summer, but in Winter the power
of vision failed her.

The old house they lived in, with its four
sickly Lombardy poplars in front, suggested
gloomy and mournful thoughts. It was one of
those houses that depress you as you enter, as if
many persons had died in it,—sombre, desolate,
silent. The very clock in the hall had a dismal
sound, gasping and catching its breath at times,
and striking the hour with a violent, determined
blow, reminding one of Jael driving the nail into
the head of Sisera.

One other inmate the house had, and only one.
This was Sally Manchester, or Miss Sally Manchester,
as she preferred to be called; an excellent
chamber-maid and a very bad cook, for she
served in both capacities. She was, indeed, an
extraordinary woman, of large frame and masculine
features;—one of those who are born to
work, and accept their inheritance of toil as if it
were play, and who consequently, in the language
of domestic recommendations, are usually styled


Page 38
“a treasure, if you can get her.” A treasure
she was to this family; for she did all the housework,
and in addition took care of the cow and
the poultry,—occasionally venturing into the field
of veterinary practice, and administering lamp-oil
to the cock, when she thought he crowed hoarsely.
She had on her forehead what is sometimes
denominated a “widow's peak,”—that is to say,
her hair grew down to a point in the middle; and
on Sundays she appeared at church in a blue
poplin gown, with a large pink bow on what she
called “the congregation side of her bonnet.”
Her mind was strong, like her person; her disposition
not sweet, but, as is sometimes said of
apples by way of recommendation, a pleasant

Such were the inmates of the gloomy house,
—from which the last-mentioned frequently expressed
her intention of retiring, being engaged to
a travelling dentist, who, in filling her teeth with
amalgam, had seized the opportunity to fill a soft
place in her heart with something still more dangerous
and mercurial. The wedding-day had
been from time to time postponed, and at length
the family hoped and believed it never would
come,—a wish prophetic of its own fulfilment.


Page 39

Almost the only sunshine that from without
shone into the dark mansion came from the face
of Cecilia Vaughan, the school-mate and bosom-friend
of Alice Archer. They were nearly of
the same age, and had been drawn together by
that mysterious power which discovers and selects
friends for us in our childhood. They sat together
in school; they walked together after school;
they told each other their manifold secrets; they
wrote long and impassioned letters to each other
in the evening; in a word, they were in love with
each other. It was, so to speak, a rehearsal in
girlhood of the great drama of woman's life.