The house of mourning.
Come now over the hills to the westward. Come to the Hillsdale woods, to the stone house by the mill, where all the day long there is heard but one name, the servants breathing it softly and low, as if she who had borne it were dead, the sister, dim-eyed now, and paler faced, whispering it oft to herself, while the lady, so haughty and proud, repeats it again and again, shuddering as naught but the echoing walls reply to the heartbroken cry of, “Margaret, Margaret, where are you now?”
Yes, there was mourning in that household—mourning for the lost one, the darling, the pet of them all.
Brightly had the sun arisen on that June morning which brought to them their sorrow, while the birds in the tall forest trees caroled as gayly as if no storm-cloud were hovering near. At an early hour Mr. Carrollton had arisen, thinking, as he looked forth from his window, “She will tell me all to-day,” and smiling as he thought how easy and pleasant would be the task of winning her back to her olden gayety. Madam Conway, too, was unusually excited, and very anxiously she listened for the first sound of Maggie’s footsteps on the stairs.
“She sleeps late,” she thought, when breakfast was announced, and taking her accustomed seat she bade a servant see if Margaret were ill.
“She is not there,” was the report the girl brought back.
“Not there!” cried Mr. Carrollton.
“Not there!” repeated Madam Conway, a shadowy foreboding of evil stealing over her. “She seldom walks at this early hour,” she continued; and, rising, she went herself to Margaret’s room.
Everything was in perfect order, the bed was undisturbed, the chamber empty; Margaret was gone, and on the dressing-table lay the fatal letter telling why she went. At first Madam Conway did not see it; but it soon caught her eye, and tremblingly she opened it, reading but the first line, “I am going away forever.”
Then a loud shriek rang through the silent room, penetrating to Arthur Carrollton’s listening ear, and bringing him at once to her side. With the letter still in her hand, and her face of a deathly hue, and her eyes flashing with fear, Madam Conway turned to him as he entered, saying, “Margaret has gone, left us forever—killed herself it may be! Read!” And she handed him the letter, herself bending eagerly forward to hear what he might say.
But she listened in vain. With lightning rapidity Arthur Carrollton read what Maggie had written—read that she, his idol, the chosen bride of his bosom, was the daughter of a servant, the grandchild of old Hagar! And for this she had fled from his presence, fled because she knew of the mighty pride which now, in the first bitter moment of his agony, did indeed rise up, a barrier between himself and the beautiful girl he loved so well. Had she lain dead before him, dead in all her youthful beauty, he could have folded her in his arms, and then buried her from his sight, with a feeling of perfect happiness compared to that which he now felt.