Dr. Heartwell, Lizzie’s father, had lived in a distant State, and died when she was but a tender child. Her mother, a descendant of the Huguenots, was herself a native of the Queen City. But far away from her native home had Mrs. Heartwell’s married life been spent, and Lizzie’s young days, too, had passed in their quiet uneventful home at Melrose.
But at the age of fifteen, and three years prior to the opening of this story, under the kindly guardianship of her uncle, Lizzie Heartwell entered the popular finishing school of Madam Truxton.
Possessed of noble, heroic blood, and blessed with love that instilled into her young mind the principles of a brave, devoted ancestry, it was but natural that Lizzie Heartwell should exhibit an unusual development of heart and mind at a very tender age, and give early promise of a braver, nobler womanhood, when Time should set his seal upon her brow.
Reluctantly the heart turns to read the half-written history in the sad face of Leah Mordecai, the fourth maiden standing pictured against the stone under the archway. She was of the unmistakable Jewish type, possessing the contour of face, the lustrous eye, the massive crown of hair, that so often distinguish and beautify the Hebrew maiden, wheresoever the sun may rise and set.
In the sadness that rested upon this young girl’s face, one might dimly detect the half-extinguished flame of hope, that usually burns so brilliantly in the hearts of most young girls. But why this sadness no one could tell. Its cause was a mystery even to her friends. Benjamin Mordecai was an opulent banker, who for many years lived in solitary grandeur in his bachelor home. But in the process of time, he wedded the gentle Sarah David, and brought her to share with him his home and fortune.
Love had led to this marriage, and peace and happiness for a time, like sweet angels, seemed to have come to dwell evermore within the home. But time brought changes. After the lapse of a year and a half, the cherished Leah was born, and from that day the mother’s health declined steadily for a twelvemonth, and then she was laid in the grave.
As the mother faded, the infant Leah thrived and flourished, filling the father’s heart with anxious, tender love.
Among the inmates of the Mordecai home from the time of Mrs. Mordecai’s declining health, was a young woman, Rebecca Hartz, who acted as house-keeper and general superintendent of domestic affairs. She had been employed by Mr. Mordecai for this important position, not so much on account of her competency to fill it, as to bestow a charity upon her unfortunate father, who constantly besought employment for his numerous children, among the more favored of his people.
Isaac Hartz was a butcher, whose slender income was readily exhausted by a burdensome family. Rebecca, his daughter, was a good-looking young woman of twenty at the time she entered Mr. Mordecai’s family. Although coarse and ill-bred, she was also shrewd and designing, often making pretence of friendship and affection to gain her ends when in reality hatred and animosity were burning in her bosom. Such was Rebecca Hartz. Such the woman to usurp the household government, when the gentle Mrs. Mordecai had passed away.