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No. 25 In Our Square

No. 25 In Our Square image
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It ia a large brick house, with frve windows to the front, and a long balcony, full of mignonette and geraniums throughout the summer, For a long time nothing was kno vn of its inhabitants bevond the infol'mation oontained in tile directory, where they were registered as Miss Keith and Miss Indiana Keith. Indeed, for ten years Our Square was kept in total ignorance of their Mstory. By sight we all knew thera well, for frequently, if the weather was fair, they were to be seen walking in the Square garden, and were generally accompanied by a darK-complexiüned but pretty girl, and a Hindú, who, though dressed like au Englishwoman, was supposed to be an ayah. The little Leila, who must have been about three or four years oíd when they flrst carne to No. 25, never joined in the games of the other children in the Square, but used to walk with the ladies and the ayah, cbattering away in a tongue which the wondering nurses supposed to be Hindustanee, and whieh seemed much more familiar to her than English. At church the Miss es Keith were most regular ; and generally, on a Sunday morning, Leila accompanied them, with the ayah, who seemed to follow her like a shadow. In all parochial charity lists their names appeared, and the clergyman was inclrned to ascribe many an anonymous donation to their liberaïity ; and of ten, on a week-day af ternoon, their carriage, instead of taking the direction of the park, would convey them to the workhouse or hospital, where they were ever most welcome. Of their personal appearance we have hitherto said nothing. Miss Keith, who might have been about thirty when she came to live in Our Square,was small and insignificantlooking ; but her expression was mild and agreeable, and the tone of her voice pleasant. Miss Indiana, who must have been nearly ten years younger than her sister, was tall and siight, and her features were delicate and beautiful ; but her whole air and manner was that of a person who has passed through a great sorrow ; and the sallowness of her complexion rather marred her general effect. Her voice. more musical than her sister's, was moumful in its tone, expressive of a sort of qaiet weariness, and very different, from Anne s olieerful, rapidacoents ; and : yet, dissimilar aa they were, the closest affection united the two. And now, instead of letting our readers grope, as we did, in the dark, we will, -without further preamble, admit them into the secret of No. 25, and teil them the story as it was told to us nearly twenty years ago. Anne and Indiana Keith were the only children of Sir William Keith, who occupied a high judicial appointment at Agra, and had spent the greater part of his life in India. Soon after the birfch of Indiana, Lady Keith was ordered to return to England, for the sake of her health, and her two children went with her; and when, in a couple of years, she died, they remained there with their grandmother, till her death deprived them of their home, anu they went out to join their father in India. At that time Indiana waa seventeen years of age, and her beauty struck rvnd delighted all the English residcnts of the city. Her rich coloring was a positivo feast to the eye, after the sallow cheeks of the Agra ladies, and only onhanced the luster of her glorious dark eyes; so that in a very short time the whole garrison was at her f eot, and all the civil servants were hopelessly in love. The eider sister was completely thrown in the shade, and she knew it; but she was quite free from any feeling of jealousy, and delighted in the universal admiration that Indiana inspired. Of course, among her worshipers there was one that the beauty preferred; and, though the spirit of coquetry which jjossessed her rendered her seutiments doubtful for a time, sho submitted at last to become the betrothed of Capt. Henry Willoughby, of her Majesty's One Hundred and Thirty-first Begiment of Foot, a gallant officer and excellent man, who was a uni' versal favorito, and esp ecially approved of by Sir William. It is true his means were small, but then the lady's fortune would amply suffioe both; and, as there was no particular rcason for delay, Indiana consented to the day being fixed for the marriage. One morning, as she and her sister were ocoupied in looking over a number of trousseau dresses iust arïived from Calcutta, she was told that a persoli wished to speak with her, and two üative women entered the room, thb first thickly veiled, the Dther with her face uncovered, and carrying a baby oí aboüt a year old. To Indiana's rathor hasty inquiry of what they waüíed, the foremost answered by r'enioving her veil, aud displaying features which, though dark, were strikingly handsome, and then, approaching the white beauty, timidly asked, in broken English, if it was true that the Bebee was going to marry the Soubahdar Willoughby. Indiana nodded assfetlt with a smile and a blush, ftüd Meenali Baee continuod, " Does the English law allow men to have two wives?" " Good heaven !" exclaimed Indiana, angrily, "-vfhat does all this nonsense nieau?" while her calmer sister answered, "Englishmen can never take a eecond wife till the flrst is dead." " Then the Bebee mustn't marry the Soubahdar Sahib ;" and she handed to the sisters a piece of paper, which Indiana took and opened, and perused with an augry frown, though, m she flnished it, she lattghed, and said, " This is some Btupid joke meant to frighten me. Somebody has been makihg a fooi of you, I fear." Then, tutning to her sister, "Look, Anne ; a contract of marriage between Henry Willoüghby, Captain in her Majesty's öne-hundredand-thirty-first jToot, and Meenah Baee, daughter of Holkar's Dewan, with some unreadable name or other, dated two years ago at Indore.. Do you mean to say," and ehe türned Bercely to the I man, ''that you consider yourself married to Capt. Willoughby i" Meenah Baee answered timidly in the affirmative. A thiek cloud rested on Indiana's brow, as she again examined the document. "Itishis signature," she said with choking voice. " Here is a note t had from him yesterday ; it íb undoubtedly his writing- signed by a clej-gyman, the Eev. W. Jones.". "There is Henry coming," exclaimed Anne, who was looking out of the window. " We will have him in here," said Indiana, coldly, and gave orders to a servant. "You, Meenah Baoe, remain veiled till I bid you show yourself." Capt. Willcughby entered the room with a look of deep depression on his faoe, which at any other time would have roused Indiana's tenderest sympathy ; but now, without observing it, she bowed in a marmer that at once startled and confounded him, and, before he could approach her, said : " Capt. Willoughby, you are come at a moment -whell your testimony in wanted. Save you ever seen thatperson before?" At her signal Meenah Baee raised her veil, and Willoughby started slightly, as he beheld the beautiful face, and answered, rather vekemently, for he fancied that Indiana was jealous, "Never, that lean remember." " Would it be inconvenient to you to exert your memory a little ?" demanded Indiana, in the same cold, hard voice ; while Meenah Baee, exclaimed, " It is he ! it is my husband !" threw herself at his f eet, embraced his knees, and kissed the hem of his garment, in her rapture. Poor Capt. Willoughby, thoroughly bewildered by this ebullition of tenderness on the part of a perfect tranger, and by his betrothed's sudden change of manner, and also oppressed by the sad news that he had to communicate, could not speak for a while, and his silence confirmed Indiana in her suspicions of his guilt. At length he replied, "I cannot recollect having erer seen her before, and what she has to do with you and me, on my honor I cannotconceive." "Your conscience should teil you," said Indiana. "So you persist in disavowingher?" But Henry Willoughby's patience could last no longer, and, without m ticing the last question, he exclidmed, " What all this means, Indiana, you best know ; but I confesa it appears to me a very dull jest, especially under the present circumstances. I have sorrow enough already without your adding to it. You, from whom I hoped for comfoit," he added, with emotion. After a moment he recovered himself, and went on, " My regiment is just ordered to march, at a moment's, against the Sikhp, and we start this evening." Indiana cheek grew pale, but otherwise she gave no sign of emotion, as she handed him the paper, and said, " It may appear a jest to you, but it certainly is none to me. Read that." Willoughby read it as desired, and then said, "I never signed this paper. It is true I was at Indore about the time when this marriage is said to have taken place ; but surely, Indiana, you cannot believe such a story about me? O, Anne ! she cannot really believe it ?" Miss Keith shook her head fully, but did not speak ; and Indiana, without looking at Mm, said, "Meenah Baee, can you swear to this man as your husband ?" and the woman unhesitatingly answered, "Yes." On being f urther questioned by Anne, she related that her husband had been obliged to leave Indore a few days af ter the marriage, but that she had lived on there till the birth of her child, when her father, in ignorance of it all, and of her change of faith, was anxious to give her in marriage to one of her own nafon ; and, to escape his importunity, she had fled Agra, and, while makiug inquines respecting her husband, she had seen him on parade, and hearing that he was about to be married, had come forward to assert her own claims. In answer to all this, Oapt. Willoughby could give nothing but an emphatic denial ; but he owned that appearances were against him ; and Sir WiUiam, whom Anne had summoned to the conference, looked disturbed, and said that it was just as well that Willoughby should have to leave Agra now, before the story got abroad. He would cause the affair to be thoroughly sifted, and the witnesses sought out whose names were appended to the document, and for the present, anyhow, the engagement had better be considered as at an end. Capt. Willoughby, whose pride was deeply wounded at his word being doubted, acquiesced, and approached Indiana to bid her farewell ; but his offeredhancl was rejected-; and haughtily bowing, she turned away ; and when that evcning the One-hundred-andthrity-first left Agra, in high spirits at the prospect of an encounter with the Sikhs, perhaps ths saddest heart among them was that of Henry Wüloughby, whose only hope now was that he might fall iu battle, and that Indiana might then repent her injustice. But he was disappointed, and passed through all the battles of Moodkee, Ferozebah, and Sobraon, without a scratch ; and though risking his life on every occasion in the most reckless and daring manner, and perforrning feata of the most heroic bravery, failed in finding the death that he desired. After Willoüghby left her father's house índiaha still preserved thë same stolid bomppsure; her pride was deeply hurt at the indijjnity that had been offered her, and yet, with strange inconsistency, she insisted on Meenah Baee's taking up hf r abode in the house, and showed the greatest kindness toward her and her child. Perplexed by her sister's conduct, Anne Keith knew not what to doi or how to rouse her f rom lier Ünhaktrai calmness; bul this was suddehly ended, for, as the ti-oops left Ágra, they hád to pass by Sir William's house, and at the sound of tlie drums and fifes Indiana fainted aWay, and it was some hours before she recovered her senses. A long illness ensued, and left her so weak that the doctors assured Sii William that his only chance of saving his child's life was to send her back to England; and, as his own health was giving way, he decided on resigning his appointiuent, and returning with her. He had not forgotten his promise to Willoughby, and every inquiry was made, but in vain. The BeV. Mr. ones had been dead for a year or iüorej the Dewah, .tliough he had discovered that his daiighter had married an Énglishman, was either uhabie or unwilling to give further information; and the two nativé witnesses whose natnes wei-e appended had left their country during some troubles, and could not be tiaced; and even Anne Keith's faith in Willoughby was beginning to give way, though she still olung to the belief that some fatal mistake had occurred. Indiana's long illness had destroyed the freshness of her beauty, but she still possessed sufficient charms to attract nmnerous admirers, and one of the mostpertinacious was a Mr. Sptirgeon, who had been long devoted to hel-, and who, on WÜloughby's depattuze, and, it was reported, dismissal, again took the field, though with no more success than before, Sir William had stayed too long in India, and after leading an invalid lifo for a year at Bath and Tunbridge Wells, he died, leaving a fortune to his two daughters, who thereupon established themselves in Our Square, and led the useful and secluded life that we have I described. Meenah Baee, who, though she had been baptised, was till known by her former namB) aild the llttle Leila acoompanied themj and the öhild was the object of the warmest affection of ! both sisters, and more especially of Indiana, whose resentment had long since been eitinguished by Anne's kind and Christian counsels, and who now feit only pity for the unf ortunate Willoughby, with an occasional feeling of pride when she saw his name mentioned with praise in the dispatches, and of regret at the thought that such brilliant qualities should be united with so much baseness. One day, ten years after the Misses Keith's establishment in Our Square, Anne was confined to the house with a cold, and Indiana went alone to the hospital where they were accustomed to pay weekly visits. In one of the wards she missed a familiar face, and, in answer to her inquiries, was told that the poor sufferer had died only the day after her last visit. "He talked a great deal about your kindness to him, ma'am," said the nurse, "and was very quiet and gentío to the last. But the patiënt who has his bed now is very troublesome. He was brought in nearly a week ago, having been run over by a cab, and was hurt so badly that the surgeon doesn't thii'k he'll get over it; and I am af raid, ma'am, that he isn't in a right frame of mind, for he used dreadfully bad language when they brought him in, though lately he has been quieter." When Indiana had gone the round of the ward, with a few kind words to each patiënt, and the reading aloud of a psalm and a prayer to such as could bear it, she approached the bed of the man of whom the nurse had spoken, and though rather in dread of what he might say to her, sat down by him, and, gently expressing hersympathyin his misfortune, asked if she should read to him. The man, whose eyes had followed her with interest ever since sne came in, assented with a readiness and civility that surprised the nurse; and as sho read on in her sweet, low voice, his groans and restless movements gradually ceased, and he gazed on her still beautiful face with an expression from which all ill-humor and suffering had vanished. When she finished one psalm, he begged for another, and when at last she prepared to go, he said: " Did I not hear them cali you Miss Keith?" " My name is Keith," she wonderingly replied. " Can it be that you are the Indiana Keith whom I knew at Agra some ten years ago ? Tou have her voice and her features ; but you are somewhat changed, though not so much as I am. "Yes, lam Indiana Keitli, and was living at Agra ten years ago ; but who are yon? I seem now to remember your face, but not your name. " " Have yon quite forgotten Fleetwood Spurgeon, who was one of the many you made fools of ? " He spoke with an excesa of bitterness, and Indiana feit it, and colored as she answered, " I remember you now ; but you are very much changed. How came you in this place ? " "When you lef t Agra, I didn't care what became of me, and soon got into trouble, and had to leave the place ; and then I went to Calcutta, and so on to Australia, where, after some time, I got some gold. But I soon lost the greater part by gambling ; aud so, tired of knocking about the world, I came back to the old country, and a warm reception has she given me. The very day I landed I met with this accident ; and, unleas the pain in my side gets better, I don't suppose I shall ever go out from here." His reckless tone distressed Indiana, and she began to urge on him the necessity of seeing a clergyman, and preparing for his end ; but he intcrrupted her by saying, "A parson would dome little good ; but there is one thing which I must confesa before I die, and to you only, for it principally concerns yourself. You remember Willoughby, of the One-hundred-and-thirty-first. Indiana's blush answered, for she remained silent, and Spurgeon proceeded. " You probably thought that the cause of your quarrel was known only to yourself- I mean his previous marriage with Meenah Baee - but I knew it all, for it was a plot of my own devising. I was mad with jealousy at Willoughby's success, and was meditating in what way I could injure him, when my ovil genius threw in my way Meenah Baee, who had come tg Agrá in search of her busband, who was captain in the one-hundred-andthirty-first Nativo Infantry, but, as I well knew, had been missing for a year or more, ever öince some skirmish or other. His name, Henry Millingby, so capable of transforniation into Willoughby ; the fact of the number of their regiments being the same ; and a certain similarity between their persons - they were both tall and fair, and a delusion that the poor wrman had got into her head, that Willonghby, whom she saw one day on parade, was really her husband, snggested t3 me the practioability of destroying his prospects ; and, under preteuse of assisting hei' searbhj I p'röctired frbm her her marriagö contract, which I destroyed ; and substituted in its stead a forged deed, imitating Willoughby's signature and those of the witnesses, who I ascertained were safe out of the way.. Meenah Baee, who oould not read Ènglisb, never discovered the forgery ; and after making her promise that she would not betray me to Willoughby, who would, I told her, never forgive me for destroying his prospects of a rich marriage, I sent her to yoti, and my plot succeeded beyond my hopes. Your indignation, and the regiment's sudden removal.were most favorable to me ; and though I was deèply wounded at being a sccond time rejcct'ed, it wao some comfort to know that my hated rival had no better chance than myself. " Can this be true ?" gasped Indiana, who had listeiied in speechless astonlshment. "Surely yoü öoüld not have been so cruel ? Poor Henry !" she murmured, in a low tone to herself, "if I had only known the truth ! Mr. Spurgeon, it is a hard matter, but still I forgive you the wrong you have dono me ; perhaps you hardly knew how great it was. Although it is too late to do so now, I should wish to be able to clear Capt. Willoughby's name of the stain that has rested upon it, and write down the deposition that you have just made." Spurseon, who, to do him justice, had never kuown the extent of her affection for Willoughby, agreed and affixed his signature to the paper ; and then, with trembliug limbs, and an agitated look that surprised the nurses, she left the hospital, and hurried home to rejoice her sister with the intelligence that her confidence in Willoughby's honor had not been misplaced. As she entered the drawing-room, where she knew she should find Miss Keith, she exclaimed, with breathless eagerness, " O, Anne, Henry is innocent 5 it was all a wicked- " but stopped short on seeing two strangers engaged in conversation with her sister and Meenah Baee. Her bewilderment did not at first allow her to distinguish their features, but she feit a strange trembling as she marked the tall figure of the one who carne forward to meet her. No, she could not be mistaken ; and in another moment her hands were clasped in Henry Willoughby's, and her tremulous "Henry, can you forgive me?" answered by their warm pressure. Excess of happiness was almost too much for Indiana after her long trinl ; but by degrees she recovered sufficiently to be able to learn how this happy meeting was brought about. And first, Col. Willoughby- for he now held that rank - had to present to her his friend, Maj. Mülingsby, who had unwittingly been the cause of thcir long estrangement. "After you left Agra," continued the Oolonel, "Iwent through all the Sikh campaign, and then my regiment was ordered to Gibraltar. After that - rather unfairly, as we thought, though had it not been for this piece of ídjustice, as we considered it, I might never have seen you again - we were ordered baek to India. This time I saw no service beyond the trifling business of reducing a refractory Mahratta chief, whose fort we took ; and there we found poor Millingsby, who had been prisoner for ten years and more, and was believed to be dead by his own people, and so had given up all hopes of getting free again." " Yes," said Maj. Millingsby, " if you only knew what the feeling of utter hopelessness was. I could hardly realize that I was free when the fort was taken. But go on with your story, Willoughby." " Well, Millingsby, when he had recovered his senses a little, began talking of his wife ; and when I heard her name and birth, the truth suddenly flashed upon me ; and though it was impossible to account for the substitution of my name for hia, I feit sure that the mistake had arisen from the similarity of sound, and that you, Indiana, had been equally deceived with me. Of course I hurried home at once ; and I will own that my first impulse was to meet you with reproaches ; but your exclamation as you entered the room disarmed me." All was now joy and happiness at Number 25 ; and Meenah Baee, or, as we ought to cali her, Mrs. Millingsby, was ín a state of ecstasy at her husband's return, though most penitent for the delusion which had caused Col. Willoughby and Indiana so much misery. Spurgeon s confession, although not necessary, as it turued out, was satisfactory, as clearing up the mystery of the story ; and the wretched man, during the brief remainder of his life, was nursed with tender solioitude by her whose happiness he had so nearly shipwreoked, but who was now, thanks to the guiding of a merciful Providence, af ter long trials, given back to her faithful lover.


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