Cousin Maude

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Author: Mary Jane Holmes

Chapter XIII. Hampton.

Six happy weeks Maude had been a teacher, and though she knew J.C. did not approve her plan, she was more than repaid for his displeasure by the words of encouragement which James always had in store for her. Many times had she been to the handsome home of the De Veres, and the lady-mother, whom she at first so much dreaded to meet, had more than once stroked her silken curls, calling her "my child," as tenderly as if she did indeed bear that relation to her. James De Vere was one of the trustees, and in that capacity he visited the school so often that the wise villagers shook their heads significantly, saying, "if he were any other man they should think the rights of J.C. were in danger."

The young school-mistress’ engagement with the fashionable Jedediah was generally known, and thus were the public blinded to the true state of affairs. Gradually James De Vere had learned how dear to him was the dark-eyed girl he called his "Cousin Maude." There was no light like that which shone in her truthful eyes—no music so sweet as the sound of her gentle voice—no presence which brought him so much joy as hers—no being in the world he loved so well. But she belonged to another—the time had passed when she might have been won. She could never be his, he said; and with his love he waged a mighty battle—a battle which lasted days and nights, wringing from him more than one bitter moan, as with his face bowed in his hands he murmured sadly, the mournful words, "It might have been."

Matters were in this condition when J.C. came one day to Hampton, accompanied by some city friends, among whom were a few young ladies of the Kelsey order. Maude saw them as they passed the schoolhouse in the village omnibus; saw, too, how resolutely J.C.’s head was turned away, as if afraid their eyes would meet.

"He wishes to show his resentment, but of course he’ll visit me ere he returns," she thought. And many times that day she cast her eyes in the direction of Hampton Park, as the De Vere residence was often called.

But she looked in vain, and with a feeling of disappointment she dismissed her school, and glad to be alone, laid her head upon the desk, falling ere long asleep, for the day was warm and she was very tired. So quietly she slept that she did not hear the roll of wheels nor the sound of merry voices as the party from the city rode by on their way to the depot. Neither half an hour later did she hear the hasty footstep which crossed the threshold of they door; but when a hand was laid upon her shoulder and a well-known voice bade her awake, she started up, and saw before her James De Vere. He had been to her boarding-place, he said, and not finding her there had sought her in the schoolhouse.

"I have two letters for you," he continued; "one from your brother, and one from J.C."

"From J.C.!" she repeated. "Has he gone back? Why didn’t he call on me?"

"He’s a villain," thought James De Vere, but he answered simply, "He had not time, and so wrote you instead," and sitting down beside her he regarded her with a look in which pity, admiration, and love were all blended—the former predominating at that moment, and causing him to lay his hand caressingly on her forehead, saying as he did so, "Your head aches, don’t it, Maude?"

Maude’s heart was already full, and at this little act of sympathy she burst into tears, while James, drawing her to his side and resting her head upon his bosom, soothed her as he would have done had she been his only sister. He fancied that he knew the cause of her grief, and his heart swelled with indignation toward J.C., who had that day shown himself unworthy of a girl like Maude. He had come to Hampton without any definite idea as to whether he should see her or not ere his return, but when, as the omnibus drew near the schoolhouse and Maude was plainly visible through the open window, one of the ladies made some slighting remark concerning school-teachers generally, he determined not to hazard an interview, and quieted his conscience by thinking he would come out in a few days and make the matter right. How then was he chagrined when in the presence of his companions his cousin said: "Shall I send for Miss Remington? She can dismiss her school earlier than usual and come up to tea."

"Dismiss her school!" cried one of the young ladies, while the other, the proud Miss Thayer, whose grandfather was a pedlar and whose great-uncle had been hanged, exclaimed, "Miss Remington! Pray who is she? That schoolmistress we saw in passing? Really, Mr. De Vere, you have been careful not to tell us of this new acquaintance. Where did you pick her up?" and the diamonds on her fingers shone brightly in the sunshine as she playfully pulled a lock of J.C.’s hair. The disconcerted J.C. was about stammering out some reply when James, astonished both at the apparent ignorance of his guests and the strangeness of his cousin’s manner, answered for him, "Miss Remington is our teacher, and a splendid girl. J.C. became acquainted with her last summer at Laurel Hill. She is a stepsister of Miss Kennedy, whom you probably know."

"Nellie, Kennedy’s stepsister. I never knew there was such a being," said Miss Thayer, while young Robinson, a lisping, insipid dandy, drawled out, "A sthool-marm, J. Thee? I’th really romantic! Thend for her, of courth. A little dithipline won’t hurt any of uth."

J.C. made a faint effort to rally, but they joked him so hard that he remained silent, while James regarded him with a look of cool contempt sufficiently indicative of his opinion.

At last when Miss Thayer asked "if the bridal day were fixed," he roused himself, and thinking if he told the truth he should effectually deceive them, he answered, "Yes, next Christmas is the time appointed. We were to have been married in June, but the lady lost her fortune and the marriage was deferred."

"Oh, teaching to purchase her bridal trousseau. I’m dying to see it," laughingly replied Miss Thayer, while another rejoined, "Lost her fortune. Was she then an heiress?"

"Yes, a milkman’s heiress," said J.C., with a slightly scornful emphasis on the name which he himself had given to Maude at a time when a milkman’s money seemed as valuable to him as that of any other man.

There was a dark, stern look on the face of James De Vere, and as Miss Thayer, the ruling spirit of the party, had an eye on him and his broad lands, she deemed it wise to change the conversation from the "Milkman’s Heiress" to a topic less displeasing to their handsome host. In the course of the afternoon the cousins were alone for a few moments, when the elder demanded of the other: "Do you pretend to love Maude Remington, and still make light both of her and your engagement with her?"

"I pretend to nothing which is not real," was J.C.’s haughty answer; "but I do dislike having my matters canvassed by every silly tongue, and have consequently kept my relation to Miss Remington a secret. I cannot see her to-day, but with your permission I will pen a few lines by way of explanation," and, glad to escape from the rebuking glance he knew he so much deserved, he stepped into his cousin’s library, where he wrote the note James gave to Maude.

Under some circumstances it would have been a very unsatisfactory message, but with her changed feelings toward the writer and James De Vere sitting at her side, she scarcely noticed how cold it was, and throwing it down, tore open Louis’ letter which had come in the evening mail. It was very brief, and hastily perusing its contents Maude cast it from her with a cry of horror and disgust—then catching it up, she moaned, "Oh, must I go!—I can’t! I can’t!"

"What is it?" asked Mr. De Vere, and pointing to the lines Maude bade him read.

He did read, and as he read his own cheek blanched, and he wound his arm closely round the maiden’s waist as if to keep her there and thus save her from danger. Dr. Kennedy had the smallpox, so Louis wrote, and Nellie, who had been home for a few days, had fled in fear back to the city. Hannah, too, had gone, and there was no one left to care for the sick man save John and the almost helpless Louis.

"Father is so sick," he wrote, "and he says, tell Maude, for humanity’s sake, to come."

If there was one disease more than another of which Maude stood in mortal fear it was the smallpox, and her first impulse was, "I will not go." But when she reflected that Louis, too, might take it, and need her care, her resolution changed, and moving away from her companion she said firmly, "I must go, for if anything befall my brother, how can I answer to our mother for having betrayed my trust? Dr. Kennedy, too, was her husband, and he must not be left to die alone."

Mr. De Vere was about to expostulate, but she prevented him by saying, "Do not urge me to stay, but rather help me to go, for I must leave Hampton to-morrow. You will get someone to take my place, as I, of course, shall not return, and if I have it—"

Here she paused, while the trembling of her body showed how terrible to her was the dread of the disease.

"Maude Remington," said Mr. De Vere, struck with admiration by her noble, self-sacrificing spirit, "I will not bid you stay, for I know it would be useless; but if that which you so much fear comes upon you, if the face now so fair to took upon be marred and disfigured until not a lineament is left of the once beautiful girl, come back to me. I will love you all the same."

As he spoke he stretched his arms involuntarily toward her, and scarce knowing what she did, she went forward to the embrace. Very lovingly he folded her for a moment to his bosom, then turning her face to the fading sunlight which streamed through the dingy window, he looked at it wistfully and long, as if he would remember every feature. Pushing back the silken curls which clustered around her forehead, he kissed her twice, and then releasing her said: "Forgive me, Maude, if I have taken more than a cousin’s liberty with you, I could not help it."

Bewildered at his words and manner, Maude raised her eyes wonderingly to his, and looking into the shining orbs, he thought how soft, how beautiful they were, but little, little did he dream their light would e’er be quenched in midnight darkness. A while longer they talked together, Mr. De Vere promising to send a servant to take her home in the morning. Then, as the sun had set and the night shadows were deepening in the room, they bade each other goodby, and ere the next day’s sun was very high in the heavens Maude was far on her way to Laurel Hill.

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Chicago: Mary Jane Holmes, "Chapter XIII. Hampton.," Cousin Maude, ed. Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926 in Cousin Maude (New York: Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909), Original Sources, accessed October 3, 2022, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9QD9ZIPWRTTPSN.

MLA: Holmes, Mary Jane. "Chapter XIII. Hampton." Cousin Maude, edited by Davis, Charles Belmont, 1866-1926, in Cousin Maude, Vol. 22, New York, Doubleday, Page & Company, 1909, Original Sources. 3 Oct. 2022. http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9QD9ZIPWRTTPSN.

Harvard: Holmes, MJ, 'Chapter XIII. Hampton.' in Cousin Maude, ed. . cited in 1909, Cousin Maude, Doubleday, Page & Company, New York. Original Sources, retrieved 3 October 2022, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=L9QD9ZIPWRTTPSN.