Read CHAPTER V of Dulcibel A Tale of Old Salem , free online book, by Henry Peterson, on

Leah Herrick’s Position and Feelings.

I have classed Leah Herrick among the domestics; but her position was rather above that. She had lived with the Widow Sands, Jethro’s aunt, since she had been twelve years old, assisting in the housework, and receiving her board and clothing in return. Now, at the age of twenty, she was worth more than that recompense; but she still remained on the old terms, as if she were a daughter instead of a servant.

She remained, asking nothing more, because she had made up her mind to be Jethro’s wife. She had a passion for Jethro, and she knew that Jethro reciprocated it. But his aunt, who was ambitious, wished him to look higher; and therefore did not encourage such an alliance. Leah was however too valuable and too cheap an assistant to be dispensed with, and thus removed from such a dangerous proximity, besides the widow really had no objection to her, save on account of her poverty.

Leah said nothing when she saw that Jethro’s attentions were directed in another direction; but without saying anything directly to Dulcibel, she contrived to impress her with the fact that she had trespassed upon her rightful domain. For Leah was a cat; and amidst her soft purrings, she would occasionally put out her velvety paw, and give a wicked little scratch that made the blood come, and so softly and innocently too, that the sufferer could hardly take offence at it.

Between these sharp intimations of Leah, and the unpleasant revelations of the innate hardness of the young man’s character, which resulted from the closer intimacy of a betrothal, Dulcibel’s affection had been gradually cooling for several months. But although the longed-for estrangement between the two had at length taken place, Leah did not feel quite safe yet; for the Widow Sands was very much put out about it, and censured her nephew for his want of wisdom in not holding Dulcibel to her engagement. “She has a good house and farm already, and she will be certain to receive much more on the death of her bachelor uncle in England,” said the aunt sharply. “You must strive to undo that foolish hour’s work. It was only a tiff on her part, and you should have cried your eyes out if necessary.”

And so Leah, thinking in her own heart that Jethro was a prize for any girl, was in constant dread of a renewal of the engagement, and ready to go to any length to prevent it.

Although a member of the “circle” that met at the minister’s house, Leah was not so regular an attendant as the others; for there were no men there and she never liked to miss the opportunity of a private conversation with Jethro, opportunities which were somewhat limited, owing to the continual watchfulness of her mistress. Still she went frequently enough to be fully imbued with the spirit of their doings, while not becoming such a victim as most of them were to disordered nerves, and an impaired and confused mental and moral constitution.