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The master's house

a tale of Southern life




Page 30


On the evening following the exercises of “Commencement,”
the residence of Dr. Elliott was thrown open, and
there assembled under its hospitable roof the friends of
the college of Malden, together with the alumni of the institution.
The ceremony of reception being over, Dr.
Elliott, and a few old friends, found themselves seated
in a quiet place upon one of the spacious galleries that
surrounded the house, and there rested from the fatigues
of the day.

“You promised,” said one of the visitors to Dr. Elliott,
“that you would give us some reminiscences of
young Mildmay, who has created such a sensation in his
favor, as the orator of the day; let us know something,
Doctor, of his personal history.”

The kind-hearted instructor assented; and leaning
back on his well-cushioned easy chair, he related what

“It is now nearly twelve years ago, that I was one
evening sitting in my parlor, at my old boarding-school,


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when I heard a knock, and getting up to see who was desiring
to come into the house, I met in the hall a lady,
dressed in deep mourning, and leading by the hand a delicate-looking

“After the usual compliments of meeting, she announced
herself as a resident of North Carolina; she
stated that she was a widow, and that the lad was her
only son. She also said, that as he was heir to a large
estate, she felt the importance of his receiving such an
education, as would enable him in the best manner to discharge
the responsible duties that would eventually devolve
upon him. She added, that through a respected
neighbor, a former pupil of mine, she was acquainted with
my capacity (she was pleased to say) to teach, and trustworthiness
as a guardian of her child.

“Nothing she said would have enabled her to make the
sacrifice of being parted from him, although fully convinced
of its propriety, but the fact, that it was the often expressed
injunction of Graham's father, that he should at a
suitable age be placed in a school at the North, and there
remain until his education was complete.

“The separation of the mother from her child was
one of the most painful things that I ever witnessed.
After repeated attempts to take formal leave, she was
finally obliged to steal away while he was asleep, and then
hurried from Malden for fear that her heart would compel
her to return.

“The lad I found of a good, but at times self-willed
disposition; but as his mind expanded, he seemed to comprehend
in a remarkable degree how much his mother had


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sacrificed that he might receive the advantages of a good
education, and, it would appear, that he had at an early
day determined to achieve a triumph.

“The declining health of the mother, who had each
successive year visited Malden, finally assumed a fatal
character; and by some temporary derangement of the
mails, the news of her decease did not reach Malden until
nearly two weeks after the sad event. From that time I
felt an additional interest in the success of Graham

“Upon the very day on which he was examined and
declared to be well prepared to enter the freshman class
of the college, I was by the partiality of my friends
elected to the honored office of its President, so that Graham
still continued a member of my family, even up to
the present time; but to-day,” said the Doctor, his voice
husky with emotion, “he has, with his college honors,
taken the place of a man in the wide world, and I lose
one of the best of pupils,—and I will add, one of the
most esteemed friends it has ever been my fortune to

“As a teacher, and I may say, parent of Graham, I
have endeavored to conscientiously perform every promise
made to his excellent mother, and I think he now presents
to the world, a youth, of whom any fond father or doting
mother might be proud.”

This exhibition of pardonable pride in the Doctor, as
he reflected upon the exercises of the day, and recalled the
triumph of his protégé, was sympathized in by all of his
auditors, and the conversation took a general character, the


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burden of which was, Graham's future, which was prophesied
would be a brilliant and useful career.

While the good Dr. Elliott was dwelling upon the
history of his much-loved pupil, Mildmay was sitting in
the imposing parlor of the Hastings House. Years ago
had he first entered that old mansion, a thoughtless boy.
In all times since then he had been received like a distant
relation of the family, and was treated by the elderly
members almost as a child; but it seemed to him, that now
that he had graduated, a new spirit, and strange responsibilities
possessed him.

Instead of running up the steps, as was his usual custom,
he walked as gravely as any Hastings could, into the
hall, where he met Annie, and, involuntarily, he gave the
formal greeting of “Miss Hastings.”

“Miss, indeed,” echoed Annie, half amused, and half

“Yes, Miss Hastings,” said Mildmay, a strange sensation
of bewilderment coming over his mind.

“Upon my word,” said the fair girl, with one of her
merry laughs, “because you were the hero to-day, does it
necessarily follow that your language must move on stilts.”

“Not at all,” returned Mildmay, as the two seated
themselves in the parlor, his voice softened almost to a
whisper, “but, Miss Hastings—Annie, I mean, are you
aware, that I leave Malden to-morrow, and do you think
that such a separation can be made without any deep emotion
on my part?”

“I have no doubt you will feel deep regret at leaving


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Dr. Elliott,” said Annie, apparently very much occupied
in arranging a bouquet of flowers on a table near by.

“I shall, as you say, feel deep regret at parting with
Dr. Elliott, although I had not particularly recurred before
to the fact,” returned Mildmay, a little surprised himself
at the reflection.

“Then you are certainly very ungrateful,” said Annie,
with a playfulness she evidently did not feel.

“Perhaps I am,” replied Mildmay; “but Annie,” he
continued, “with the necessity of leaving Malden, I have
most thought of leaving you. Malden has been for years
my home,—within its precincts are many of my most vivid
and pleasant recollections; but if I cannot take with me
the assurance that I am held in esteem by you, and also
the hope that I can return at some future time, and claim
a higher place than friendship in your affections, then upon
my departure will I be wretched indeed.”

“You have certainly changed very much since yesterday,
Graham,” said Annie, maintaining her presence of
mind, and controlling her feelings, “for to my knowledge,”
she continued, “you have been longing to get free from
the summons of the college bell—those hateful professors—
and, if your compliments at our tea table are not all pretence,
still more hateful commons.”

“True,” answered Graham, “such should be my rejoicing,
but it is not so; my fellow-students, when they
abandon their alma mater, have warmer mothers to greet
them, and a thousand long-neglected home associations to
revive, but I have neither one nor the other. Away from
Malden, and I leave my most cherished friends behind me,


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and shall be a perfect stranger, even where my worldly
interests are all centered, and where in the order of Providence
I must find a home.”

“True, true,” replied Annie, her face full of sympathy,
“what you say is true, but,” she suggested, “will you not
soon be in your distant South, and there find charms
enough in those bright Hebe eyes we read about as so peculiar
to a tropical clime, to make you soon, very soon forget
the chilly atmosphere of our cold climate, and the awkwardly
expressed friendships of our colder hearts.”

“Do not say colder hearts, Annie,” said Mildmay, seizing
her unresisting hand, “say not even indifferent ones,
for I have long indulged a hope that I may have awakened
an interest in your affections, that might in time change
from passing interest into love.”

“Graham,” said Annie, her eyes swimming in confusion,
“could I have been spared this acknowledgment on
your part, it would have saved me a great deal of pain, but
how much more I should have felt, had you left Malden
without this acknowledgment of esteem, I dare not say.”

“Say not esteem, Annie,” returned Mildmay, “say
nothing if you can find no more genial word; rather let
your silence give me the hope your tongue would deny.”

“Graham,” said Annie, the tears struggling in her
eyes, “what hold in the future can our plain New England
home retain upon one who has so wide a field of active
life before him. I dare not indulge the thought, Graham,
that you will not illustrate the proverbial fickleness of college

“Then,” said Graham, with an energy that startled


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Annie almost with alarm, “then you are not prepared to
do justice to the truest heart that ever beat with love!
Annie, my sentiments are not the growth of an hour, a
caprice of a day; almost from the time we first met, have I
indulged the ambitious hope of calling you at some future
time my own.”

At this frank declaration, not altogether unexpected,
from the vague communings of Annie's inmost thoughts,
she withdrew her hand from Graham, and bent her eyes
for a moment on the ground, then recovering herself, she

“You may ascribe my conduct, Graham, to coldness,
rather than education, but you know I have been raised to
cultivate a self-sacrificing spirit. I dare not be too enthusiastic,
dare not hope too much; therefore, Graham, speak
only of friendship, not of love.”

“I will do all that you please,” said Graham, his face
expressing joy; “only tell me,” he continued, “that at
some future time you will give me hope.”

“Two years hence,” said Annie, placing her hand in
Graham's, “you will find me with a heart as free as now,
and still Annie Hastings. If at the end of that time your
college preferences are confirmed, in spite of your experience
in the world, then Graham, and not till then, offer
me your heart.”

“And may I, in that long probation, write to you,
Annie, from my southern home?” said Graham, staring
into her pure face as if he would see her very soul.

“You may write, Graham, as we have in times past
talked; we shall all be glad to hear from you, and I am


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sure Dr Elliott will let you often hear from your friends
in Malden.”

“Enough, enough,” said Graham, passionately, pressing
Annie's still imprisoned hand to his heart, and imprinting
an unresisted kiss upon her forehead. “Enough,
Annie,” he again repeated. “And now,” he continued,
with animation, “the two long years of my probation
shall be laboriously, but, because of your existence, hopefully
spent. In that time I will have assumed full control
of my long neglected estate; the cares of business will be
light, because they are to be crowned with such a reward.
I already feel—”

“No more!” said Annie, playfully interrupting him,
“let us talk of other things.”

The many words that were spoken in the long conversation
that ensued, would to others appear cold and commonplace,
but they were used only to beguile the ear of two
young and hopeful beings, who uttered their real thoughts
with their eyes, and responded through the deeper sympathy
of united hearts.