Read CHAPTER XI - WOODLAWN of 'Lena Rivers, free online book, by Mary J. Holmes, on ReadCentral.com.

Next morning, long before the sun appeared above the eastern horizon, Fleetfoot, attended by Bill, stood before the door saddled and waiting for its young rider, while near by it was Firelock, which Durward had borrowed of John Jr.  At last ’Lena appeared, and if Durward had admired her beauty before, his admiration was now greatly increased when he saw how well she looked in her neatly fitting riding dress and tasteful straw hat.  After bidding her good morning, he advanced to assist her in mounting, but declining his offer, she with one bound sprang into the saddle,

“Jumps like a toad,” said Bill.  “Ain’t stiff and clumsy like Miss Carrie, who allus has to be done sot on.”

At a word from Durward they galloped briskly away, the clatter of their horses’ hoofs arousing and bringing to the window Mrs. Graham, who had a suspicion of what was going on.  Pushing aside the silken curtain, she looked uneasily after them, wondering if in reality her son cared aught for the graceful creature at his side, and thinking if he did, how hard she would labor to overcome his liking.  Mrs. Graham was not the only one who watched them, for fearing lest Bill should not awake, John Jr. had foregone his morning nap, himself calling up the negro, and now from his window he, too, looked after them until they entered upon the turnpike and were lost to view.  Then, with some very complimentary reflections upon Lena’s riding, he returned to his pillow, thinking to himself, “There’s a girl worth having.  By Jove, if I’d never seen Nellie Douglass, and ’Lena wasn’t my cousin, wouldn’t I keep mother in the hysterics most of the time!”

On reaching the turnpike, Durward halted, while he asked ’Lena “where she wished to go.”

“Anywhere you please,” said she, when, for reasons of his own, he proposed that they should ride over to Woodlawn.

’Lena was certainly excusable if she felt a secret feeling of satisfaction in thinking she was after all the first of the family to visit Woodlawn, of which she had heard so much, that it seemed like a perfect Eldorado.  It was a grand old building, standing on a cross road about three miles from the turnpike, and commanding quite an extensive view of the country around.  It was formerly owned by a wealthy Englishman, who spent his winters in New Orleans and his summers in the country.  The year before he had died insolvent, Woodlawn falling into the hands of his creditors, who now offered it for sale, together with the gorgeous furniture which still remained just as the family had left it.  To the left of the building was a large, handsome park, in which the former owner had kept a number of deer, and now as Durward and ’Lena rode up and down the shaded avenues, these graceful creatures would occasionally spring up and bound away with the fleetness of the wind.

The garden and yard in front were laid out with perfect taste, the former combining both the useful and the agreeable.  A luxurious grape-vine wreathed itself over the arched entrance, while the wide, graveled walks were bordered, some with box, and others with choice flowers, now choked and overgrown with weeds, but showing marks of great beauty, when properly tended and cared for.  At the extremity of the principal walk, which extended the entire length of the garden, was a summer house, fitted up with everything which could make it attractive, during the sultry heat of summer, while farther on through the little gate was a handsome grove or continuation of the park, with many well-beaten paths winding through it and terminating finally at the side of a tiny sheet of water, which within a few years had forced itself through the limestone soil natural to Kentucky.

Owing to some old feud, the English family had not been on visiting terms with the Livingstones; consequently, ’Lena had never before been at Woodlawn, and her admiration increased with every step, and when at last they entered the house and stood within the elegant drawing-rooms, it knew no bounds.  She remembered the time when she had thought her uncle’s furniture splendid beyond anything in the world, but it could not compare with the magnificence around her, and for a few moments she stood as if transfixed with astonishment.  Durward had been highly amused at her enthusiastic remarks concerning the grounds, and now noticing her silence, he asked “what was the matter?”

“Oh, I am half-afraid to speak, lest this beautiful room should prove an illusion and fade away,” said she.

“Is it then so much more beautiful than anything you ever saw before?” he asked; and she replied, “Oh, yes, far more so,” at the same time giving him a laughable description of her amazement when she first saw the inside of her uncle’s house, and ending by saying, “But you can imagine it all, for you saw me in the cars, and can judge pretty well what were my ideas of the world.”

Wishing to see if ’Lena would attempt to conceal her former humble mode of living Durward said, “I have never heard anything concerning your eastern home and how you lived there-will you please to tell me?”

“There’s nothing to tell which will interest you,” answered ’Lena; but Durward thought there was, and leading her to a sofa, he bade her commence.

Durward had a peculiar way of making people do what he pleased, and now at his bidding ’Lena told him of her mountain-home, with its low-roof, bare walls, and oaken floors-of herself, when, a bare-footed little girl, she picked huckleberries with Joel Slocum!  And then, in lower and more subdued tones, she spoke of her mother’s grave in the valley, near which her beloved grandfather-the only father she had ever known-was now sleeping.  ’Lena never spoke of her grandfather without weeping.  She could not help it.  Her tears came naturally, as they did when first they told her he was dead, and now laying her head upon the arm of the sofa, she sobbed like a child.

Durward’s sympathies were all enlisted, and without stopping to consider the propriety or impropriety of the act, he drew her gently toward him, trying to soothe her grief, calling her ’Lena, and smoothing back the curls which had fallen over her face.  As soon as possible ’Lena released herself from him, and drying her tears, proposed that they should go over the house, as it was nearly time for them to return home.  Accordingly, they passed on through room after room, ’Lena’s quick eye taking in and appreciating everything which she saw, while Durward was no less lost in admiration of her, for speaking of herself so frankly as she had done.  Many young ladies, he well knew, would shrink from acknowledging that their home was once in a brown, old-fashioned house among wild and rugged mountains, and ’Lena’s truthfulness in speaking not only of this, but many similar things connected with her early history, inspired him with a respect of her which he had never before felt for any young lady of his acquaintance.

But little was said by either of them as they went over the house, until Durward, prompted by something, he could not resist suddenly asked his companion “how she would like to be mistress of Woodlawn?”

Had it been Carrie to whom this question was put, she would have blushed and simpered, expecting nothing short of an immediate offer, but ’Lena quickly replied, “Not at all,” laughingly giving as an insuperable objection, “the size of the house and the number of windows she would have to wash!”

With a loud laugh Durward proposed that they should now return home, and again mounting their horses, they started for Maple Grove, which they reached just after the family had finished breakfast.  With the first ring of the bell, John Jr., eager not to lose an iota of what might occur, was at the table, and when his mother and Carrie, anxious at the non-appearance of Durward and ’Lena, cast wistful glances toward each other, he very indifferently asked Mrs. Graham “if her son had returned from his ride.”

“I’ve not seen him,” answered the lady, her scowl deepening and her lower jaw dropping slightly, as it usually did when she was ill at ease.

“Who’s gone to ride?” asked Mr. Graham; and John Jr. replied that Durward and ’Lena had been riding nearly two hours, adding, that “they must find each other exceedingly interesting to be gone so long.”

This last was for the express benefit of his mother, whose frown kept company with Mrs. Graham’s scowl.  Chopping her steak into mince-meat, and almost biting a piece from her cup as she sipped her coffee, she at last found voice to ask, “what horse ’Lena rode!”

“Fleetfoot, of course,” said John Jr., at the same time telling his father he thought “he ought to give ’Lena a pony of her own, for she was accounted the best rider in the county, and Fleetfoot was getting old and clumsy.”

The moment breakfast was over, Mrs. Livingstone went in quest of Cæsar, whom she abused for disobeying her orders, threatening him with the calaboose, and anything else which came to her mind.  Old Cæsar was taken by surprise, and being rather slow of speech, was trying to think of something to say, when John Jr., who had followed his mother, came to his aid, saying that “he himself had sent Bill for Fleetfoot,” and adding aside to his mother, that “the next time she and Cad were plotting mischief he’d advise them to see who was in the back parlor!”

Always ready to suspect ’Lena of evil, Mrs. Livingstone immediately supposed it was she who had listened; but before she could frame a reply, John Jr. walked off, leaving her undecided whether to cowhide Cæsar, ’Lena, or her son, the first of whom, taking advantage of the pause followed the example of his young master and stole away.  The tramp of horses’ feet was now heard, and Mrs. Livingstone, mentally resolving that Fleetfoot should be sold, repaired to the door in time to see Durward carefully lift ’Lena from her pony and place her upon the ground.  Mrs. Graham, Carrie, and Annie were all standing upon the piazza, and as ’Lena came up the walk, her eyes sparkling and her bright face glowing with exercise, Anna exclaimed, “Isn’t she beautiful?” at the same time asking her “where she had been.”

“To Woodlawn,” answered ’Lena.

“To Woodlawn!” repeated Mrs. Graham.

“To Woodlawn!” echoed Mrs. Livingstone, while Carrie brought up the rear by exclaiming, “To Woodlawn! pray what took you there?”

“The pony,” answered ’Lena, as she passed into the house.

Thinking it best to put Mrs. Graham on her guard, Mrs. Livingstone said to her, in a low tone, “I would advise you to keep an eye upon your son, if he is at all susceptible, for there is no bound to ’Lena’s ambition.”

Mrs. Graham made no direct reply, but the flashing of her little gray eye was a sufficient answer, and satisfied with the result of her caution, Mrs. Livingstone reentered the house.  Two hours afterward, the carriage stood at the door waiting to convey the party to Woodlawn.  It had been arranged that Mrs. Graham, Carrie, Anna, and Durward should ride in the carriage, while Mr. Graham went on horseback.  Purposely, Carrie loitered behind her companions, who being first, of course took the back seat, leaving her the privilege of riding by the side of Durward.  This was exactly what she wanted, and leaning back on her elbow, she complacently awaited his coming.  But how was she chagrined, when, in his stead, appeared Mr. Graham, who sprang into the carriage and took a seat beside her; saying to his wife’s look of inquiry, that as John Jr. had concluded to go, Durward preferred riding on horseback with him, adding, in his usually polite way, “And I, you know, would always rather go with the ladies.  But where is Miss Rivers?” he continued.  “Why isn’t she here?”

“Simply because she wasn’t invited, I suppose,” returned his wife, detecting the disappointment in his face.

“Not invited!” he repeated; “I didn’t know as this trip was of sufficient consequence to need a special invitation.  I thought, of course, she was here -

“Or you would have gone on horseback,” said his wife, ever ready to catch at straws.

Mr. Graham saw the rising jealousy in time to repress the truthful:  answer-“Yes”-while he compromised the matter by saying that “the presence of three fair ladies ought to satisfy him.”

Carrie was too much disappointed even to smile, and during all the ride she was extremely taciturn, hardly replying at all to Mr. Graham’s lively sallies, and winning golden laurels in the opinion of Mrs. Graham, who secretly thought her husband altogether too agreeable.  As they turned into the long avenue which led to Woodlawn, and Carrie thought of the ride which ’Lena had enjoyed alone with its owner-for such was Durward reported to be-her heart swelled with bitterness toward her cousin, in whom she saw a dreaded rival.  But when they reached the house, and Durward assisted her to alight, keeping at her side while they walked over the grounds, her jealousy vanished, and with her sweetest smile she looked up into his face, affecting a world of childish simplicity, and making, as she believed, a very favorable impression.

“I wonder if you are as much pleased with Woodlawn as your cousin,” said Durward, noticing that her mind seemed to be more intent on foreign subjects than the scenery around her.

“Oh, no, I dare say not,” returned Carrie. “’Lena was never accustomed to anything until she came to Kentucky, and now I suppose she thinks she must go into ecstacies over everything, though I sometimes wish she wouldn’t betray her ignorance quite so often.”

“According to her description, her home in Massachusetts was widely different from her present one,” said Durward, and Carrie quickly replied, “I wonder now if she bored you with an account of her former home!  You must have been edified, and had a delightful ride, I declare.”

“And I assure you I never had a pleasanter one, for Miss Rivers is, I think, an exceedingly agreeable companion,” returned Durward, beginning to see the drift of her remarks.

Here Mr. Graham called to his son, and excusing himself from Carrie, he did not again return to her until it was time to go home.  Meantime, at Maple Grove, Mrs. Livingstone, in the worst possible humor, was finding fault with poor ’Lena, accusing her of eavesdropping, and asking her if she did not begin to believe the old adage, that listeners never heard any good of themselves.  In perfect astonishment ’Lena demanded what she meant, saying she had never, to her knowledge, been guilty of listening.

Without any explanation, whatever, Mrs. Livingstone declared herself “satisfied now, for a person who would listen and then deny it, was capable of almost anything.”

“What do you mean, madam ?” said ’Lena, her temper getting the ascendency.  “Explain yourself, for no one shall accuse me of lying without an attempt to prove it.”

With a sneer Mrs. Livingstone replied, “I wonder what you can do!  Will you bring to your assistance some one of your numerous admirers?”

“Admirers!  What admirers?” asked ’Lena, and her aunt replied, “I’ll give you credit for feigning the best of any one I ever saw, but you can’t deceive me.  I know very well of your intrigues to entrap Mr. Bellmont.  But it is not strange that you should inherit something of your mother’s nature; and you know what she was!”

This was too much, and with eyes flashing fire through the glittering tears, which shone like diamonds, ’Lena sprang to her feet, exclaiming, “Yes, I do know what she was.  She was a far more worthy woman than you, and if in my presence you dare again breathe aught against her name, you shall rue it -

“That she shall, so help me heaven,” murmured a voice near, which neither Mrs. Livingstone nor ’Lena heard, nor were they aware of any one’s presence until Mr. Graham suddenly appeared in the doorway.

At his wife’s request he had exchanged places with his son, and riding on before the rest, had reached home first, being just in time to overhear the last part of the conversation between Mrs. Livingstone and ’Lena.  Instantly changing her manner, Mrs. Livingstone motioned her niece from the room, heaving a deep sigh as the door closed after her, and saying that “none but those who had tried it knew what a thankless job it was to rear the offspring of others.”

There was a peculiar look in Mr. Graham’s eyes, as he answered, “In your case I will gladly relieve you, if my wife is willing.  I have taken a great fancy to Miss Rivers, and would like to adopt her as my daughter.  I will speak to Mrs. Graham to-night.”

Much as she disliked ’Lena, Mrs. Livingstone would not for the world have her become an inmate of Mr. Graham’s family, where she would be constantly thrown in Durward’s way; and immediately changing her tactics, she replied, “I thank you for your kind offer, but I know my husband would not think of such a thing; neither should I be quite willing for her to leave us, much as she troubles me.”

Mr. Graham bowed stiffly, and left the house.  That night, after he had retired to his room, he seemed unusually distracted, pacing up and down the apartment, occasionally pausing to gaze out into the moonlit sky, and then resuming his measured tread.  At last nerving himself to brave the difficulty, he stopped before his wife, to whom he made known his plan of adopting ’Lena.

“It seems hasty, I know,” said he, “but she is just the kind of person I would like to have round-just such a one as I would wish my daughter to be if I had one.  In short, I like her, and with your consent I will adopt her as my own, and take her from this place where I know she’s not wanted.  What say you, Lucy?”

“Will you adopt the old woman too?” asked Mrs. Graham, whose face was turned away so as to hide its expression.

“That is an after consideration,” returned her husband, “but if you are willing, I will either take her to our home, or provide for her elsewhere-but come, what do you say?”

All this time Mrs. Graham had sat bolt upright, her little dumpling hands folded one within the other, the long transparent nails making deep indentures in the soft flesh, and her gray eyes emitting green gleams of scorn.  The answer her husband sought came at length, and was characteristic of the woman.  Hissing out the words from between her teeth, she replied, “When I take ’Lena Rivers into my family for my husband and son to make love to, alternately, I shall be ready for the lunatic asylum at Lexington.”

“And what objection have you to her?” asked Mr. Graham; to which his wife replied, “The very fact, sir, that you wish it, is a sufficient reason why I will not have her; besides that, you must misjudge me strangely if you think I’d be willing for my son to come daily in contact with a girl of her doubtful parentage.”

“What know you of her parentage?” said Mr. Graham, his lips turning slightly pale.

“Yes, what do I know?” answered his wife.  “Her father, if she has any, is a rascal, a villain -

“Yes, yes, all of that,” muttered Mr. Graham, while his wife continued, “And her mother a poor, low, mean, ignorant -

“Hold!” thundered Mr. Graham.  “You shall not speak so of any woman of whom you know nothing, much less of ‘Lena Rivers’ mother.”

“And pray what do you know of her-is she an old acquaintance?” asked Mrs. Graham, throwing into her manner as much of insolence as possible.

“I know,” returned Mr. Graham, “that ’Lena’s mother could be nothing else than respectable.”

“Undoubtedly; but of this be assured-the daughter shall never, by my permission, darken my doors,” said Mrs. Graham, growing more and more excited, and continuing-“I know you of old, Harry Graham; and I know now that your great desire to secure Woodlawn was so as to be near her, but it shan’t be.”

In her excitement, Mrs. Graham forgot that it was herself who had first suggested Woodlawn as a residence, and that until within a day or two her husband and ’Lena were entire strangers.  But this made no difference.  She was bent upon being unreasonable, and for nearly an hour she fretted and cried, declaring herself the most abused of her sex, and wishing she had never seen her husband, who, in his heart, warmly seconded that wish, wisely resolving not to mention the offending ’Lena again in the presence of his wife.

The next day the bargain for Woodlawn was completed; after which, Mr. and Mrs. Graham, together with Durward, returned to Louisville, intending to take possession of their new home about the first of October.