These were the kindest words the child had ever had spoken to her, or at least the kindest she could remember. They fell on her ears like music and awakened gratitude and love in her heart. She ceased to sigh, and before the ride to town was ended had begun to feel a vague sense of happiness.
* * * * *
The next few years were full of strange adventures for these singular companions. The quack had discovered certain clues to the past history of the child whom he had thus adopted, and was firmly persuaded that she belonged to a noble family. He had made all his plans to take her to Spain and establish her identity in the hope of securing a great reward. But just as he was about to execute this scheme, he was seized by a disease which prostrated him for many months, and threw him into a nervous condition in which he contracted the habit of stammering. On his recovery from his long sickness he found himself stripped of everything he had accumulated; but his shrewdness and indomitable will remained, and he soon began to rebuild his shattered fortune.
During all these ups and downs, Pepeeta was his inseparable and devoted companion. The admiration which her childish beauty excited in his heart had deepened into affection and finally into love. When she reached the age of sixteen or seventeen years, he proposed to her the idea of marriage. She knew nothing of her own heart, and little about life, but had been accustomed to yield implicit obedience to his will. She consented and the ceremony was performed by a Justice of the Peace in the city of Cincinnati, a year or so before their appearance in the Quaker village. An experience so abnormal would have perverted, if not destroyed her nature, had it not contained the germs of beauty and virtue implanted at her birth. They were still dormant, but not dead; they only awaited the sun and rain of love to quicken them into life.
The quack had coarsened with the passing years, but Pepeeta, withdrawing into the sanctuary of her soul, living a life of vague dreams and half-conscious aspirations after something, she knew not what, had grown even more gentle and submissive. As she did not yet comprehend life, she did not protest against its injustice or its incongruity. The vulgar people among whom she lived, the vulgar scenes she saw, passed across the mirror of her soul without leaving permanent impressions. She performed the coarse duties of her life in a perfunctory manner. It was her body and not her soul, her will and not her heart which were concerned with them. What that soul and that heart really were, remained to be seen.
“One woman is
fair, yet I am well; another is wise, yet I am well;
but till all graces be in one woman, one woman shall not come in my
grace.”—Much Ado About Nothing.