Over the bevy of factory-children, and those gathered from the wealthier families too, Lizzie Heartwell now presided with great dignity and grace, as school-mistress. In this sphere of life, her faculties of mind, soul, and body, found full scope for perfect development. Fond of children, loving study, happy always to help those desiring knowledge, glad to enlighten the ignorant, Lizzie Heartwell was happy, and useful too, in the work in which she was employed. It was now more than three years since Lizzie left Madam Truxton’s, and she was now ending the second year of her teaching. It was September. The woods were dying earlier than usual, in the golden Indian summer. The days were sweet and delicious, and Melrose was as attractive in its autumn loveliness as it had been in the freshness of spring. It was toward the close of one of those charming September days, when Lizzie Heartwell stepped to the door of her school-room to watch the descending sun, and to see if she were detaining the children too long. Instantly her attention was arrested by the rumbling of the tri-weekly stage-coach, toiling up the hill before her. For a moment she stood watching its slow approach, apparently unmindful of the class that was already “in line” upon the floor, eagerly awaiting the last recitation, which would set them free. And yet the school-mistress gazed at the stage-coach, which had at last reached the top of the hill, and the horses, as if under new inspiration, were jogging along in a brisk trot, and were rapidly approaching the school-house. Suddenly the face of the young school-mistress grew pale, and then crimson, as she caught a glimpse of a face that leaned wearily beside the coach-door and looked out-a face not unfamiliar, and yet not well-remembered; a handsome, manly face, overshadowed by a military cap-and like a sudden flash came the thought that she had seen that face before. Regaining her self-possession, Lizzie turned from the door, examined the spelling-class as calmly as ever, commended all for their perfection in recitation, and with a blessing dismissed the eager little band for the day.
“Who was it?” she muttered, as she slowly donned the jaunty hat and her mantle, and mechanically drew on her kid gauntlets, preparatory to starting homeward. “I have seen that face before, I think, and yet I am not sure. Can it possibly be George Marshall?” she said slowly. “If so, time has changed him, yet only to improve, I think. How the thought of ever seeing George Marshall again startles me! But I am foolish, very foolish, to imagine such an absurd thing. Oh, no, he will never come to Melrose. I wish he would,” and she began singing a low love-ditty half-unconsciously, half-fearfully, as she trudged homeward.
An hour later, and a perfumed billet-doux bore to the widow’s cottage the compliments of Captain George H. Marshall, U. S. A. He had, indeed, come to Melrose at last.