A STARTLING VALEDICTORY.
WHILE the household slumbered a pale messenger
entered silently and said to one of its members, ''This night thy soul
is required of thee! Come with me."
Mr. Laurence was found dead in his bed in the morning,
a smile, warmer than his living features had worn for years, frozen upon
For those who have witnessed the ghastly spectacle of
a modern funeral, no description of that barbarous rite is necessary. Who
has not seen it all--the darkened room, stifling with its mingled odors
of flowers and disinfectants; the sombre, hideous casket; the awful ceremony
of screwing down the lid over the beloved face : the black army of pall-bearers
: the long, slow, mournful journey to the desolate, disease-breeding cemetery;
the damp, dark, yawning pit, the lowered coffin, the sickening thud of
the earth as dust returns to dust. Oh! could the most savage race invest
death with more terrors than this frightful custom of the civilized world?
Then follows the long process of decay, the darkness, the gloom, the weight
of the earth upon that dear breast, the grave-worm slowly eating his slimy
way into the flesh which has thrilled under our warm kisses--God! are we
not cruel to our dead?
Compare with this the beautiful ceremony of cremation.
A snowy cloth envelopes the dead. A door swings open noiselessly,
and the iron cradle, with its burden clothed as for the nuptial bed, rolls
through the aperture and disappears in a glory of crimson light, as a dove
sails into the summer sunset skies and is lost to view. There is
no smoke, no flame, no odor of any kind. Nothing comes in contact
with the precious form we have loved, but the purity of intense heat, and
the splendor of great light. In a few hours, swiftly, noiselessly,
with no repulsive or ghastly features in the process, the earthly part
of our dear one is reduced to a small heap of snowy ashes. All hail the
dawn of a newer and higher civilization, which shall substitute the cleanliness
and simplicity of cremation for the complicated and dreadful horrors of
By Mr, Laurence's will it was discovered that his entire
property, amounting to a comfortable competence, belonged to Dolores, with
the exception of the homestead : This was to pass into the hands of Dr.
Monroe, his family physician and only intimate acquaintance. Friends
offered the shelter of their homes to Dolores, and urged her to accept
their sympathetic hospitality until her future plans were formed.
But the sorrowing orphan refused to leave the thrice gloomy house.
She clung to Helena, and said, between her sobs, "They tell me I must go
away from here soon, forever : that it is no longer my home. Surely,
I may remain a little while--a few weeks, and surely you will stay with
me, Helena? I cannot leave it all so suddenly--it is too much to
ask of me."
Finally it was decided that Dr. and Mrs. Monroe should
take immediate charge of their new home, and that Helena should remain
with her friend until her preparations were completed for a final departure.
Then together they would return to Madame Scranton's to
remain until the June vacation, when Dolores would receive her diploma
as a "finished" young lady.
One day Dolores asked Helena to assist her in selecting
and packing the books she wished to take from her uncle's library. According
to his will, she was to retain such portion of his collection as she most
"All those on the second and lower shelves you may take
down,"she said, "They are my favorites--they have helped to form my mind
and principles, and they seem like personal friends to me--and far more
reliable than most people."
Helena read the titles of the books as she dusted them
off and placed them in the packing boxes.
There were all the works of Chas. Fourier, Histories of
all the Communistic Societies of ancient and modern times; all of George
Sand's Works, Voltaire, Shelly, his life and works; Life of Mary Wollstonecraft,
and her "Vindication of the Rights of Women;" Onderdonk's "Marriage prohibited
by the Laws of God;" Balzac's "Petty Annoyances of Married Life;" "Disadvantages
of the Married State,"--an antique book bearing the date of 1761; works
by Mitchell and J. Johnson on the same subject; and many others by obscure
authors. With the exception of a few, they were nearly all books of which
Helena had never even heard. She glanced through the pages of Fourier,
"Dear me!" she said, "how very much deeper your mind is
than my own, Dolores. I could never in the world read such books as those;
I could never become interested in them. I do not think I ever knew another
person so wise as you are--for your age."
"I take no credit to myself," Dolores answered;
"it is all the result of my Uncle's training. 'As the twig is bent, the
tree is inclined.' And yet I think my Mother's diary prepared me for this
train of thought as nothing else could have done. Some day, Lena, I shall
show you that diary; and then you will better comprehend me, and my ideas.
But not yet; your mind is too childlike to grasp such sad truths. And still,
I think they can scarcely be brought to our knowledge too soon."
Helena's curiosity was aroused, and her first impulse
was to ask Dolores for the diary, or at least to urge her to reveal something
of the nature of its contents. But a second thought caused her to respond
in an entirely different way.
"I should wish to have my Mother read the diary first,"
she said, "if it contains any information on matters of which I am now
ignorant. I am sure she would be the best judge, whether or not I need
such instruction. She has always told me to come first to her for explanation
of any thing which surprised or puzzled me. I am sure she would not approve
if I disobeyed her in this instance."
"You are quite right, Lena," her friend answered, with
a sense of having been quietly rebuked. "I know I have talked too freely
with you on this matter; I have excited your curiosity, and to no good
result. But somehow, I talk to you more unreservedly than I ever conversed
with any one else. I don't know why; I have always prided myself on my
reticence--yet your sweet sympathy seems to destroy my caution. I respect
your delicate idea of what is due your mother, and I will not thrust my
heart's convictions upon you again, dear."
Still, it was owing to Helena's own sense of honor, that
Dolores had not startled and shocked her young and perfectly innocent mind,
by unfolding unlovely facts, and rude truths, for which she was totally
unprepared. Yet, Madame Scranton had assured Mrs. Maxon, that Miss King
was an admirable companion for her young daughter. So poorly does the most
careful preceptor, as a rule, understand the complex natures in her care,
and so little does the most prudent parent realize the dangers to which
she exposes her daughter in these boarding-school intimacies.
It seemed to Helena, that she was years older, and sadder,
when, at the expiration of three weeks, she accompanied Dolores back to
Madame Scranton's Academy.
The sudden death of Mr. Laurence, upon the very night
of her arrival, the gloom of the succeeding days, the heart-breaking sorrow
of Dolores, as she bade a last adieu to the old house, and went forth homeless,
though an heiress, all served to sadden and depress Helena's usually buoyant
"I am glad I went home with Dolore," she wrote to her
mother, "both because the poor girl needed me in her time of trouble, and
because it has made me more than ever grateful to heaven for the blessings
of my dear parents, and my happy home. Poor Dolores ! she has a fortune,
and great personal beauty, and a wonderfully deep mind; you would be surprised,
Mamma, to see the books that girl has read. But she has no home,
no mother, and my heart aches for her. For some strange reason, she
seems to feel a repugnance, that is almost hatred, towards her father,
who is living, you know. She says, when I read her mother's diary, that
I will understand her better. She puzzles me very much, she
says such strange things. But I am very fond of her, Mamma, and I
want you to invite her to come home with me, after she graduates.
Just think ! she has no place on earth she can call home. Is it not a terribly
sad situation for a girl like her?" So it was decided that Dolores should
accompany her friend to Elm Hill, at the close of the term.
Perhaps Mrs. Maxon might have hesitated, in writing the
sweet motherly letter of invitation which she sent to Dolores, if she had
seen the manuscript upon which that young lady was hard at work : the manuscript
of the address she was to deliver, "Commencement Day."
Mrs. Maxon was present when that day arrived. Fair girls
in snowy costumes fluttered upon the stage of the assembly hall, like a
shower of apple-blossoms; delivered themselves of pretty platitudes, and
time-worn sentiments, in sweet treble voices : were listened to, and applauded,
by proud parents and admiring friends, and made their graceful exit, no
longer schoolgirls, but young ladies fully equipped for "Society."
All but one. She came, clothed in deepest mourning, with
only a cluster of purple pansies to relieve the dead blackness of her garments,
out of which rose like a star from midnight clouds her beautiful, pallid
face, with its crown of golden hair.
Perfect silence reigned in the Assembly Hall, when Dolores
began speaking. Her voice was clear as the tones of a silver bell,
her pronunciation distinct and deliberate. Her theme was, ''Woman,
her Duties and her Dangers." In terse and finely chosen sentences,
she denounced marriage as a bondage and slavery, of the most degrading
type--opposed to the highest interest of Society as a whole, and a women
in particular. She quoted liberally from various authors, to substantiate
her assertions, and closed with an eloquent appeal to all her classmates,
to avoid this dangerous pitfall; to go forth into world self-reliant and
strong in their determination to make places and homes for themselves,
untrammeled by indissoluble and uncongenial companionships. Although making
her assertions with most startling positiveness, her choice language
conveyed no offensive phrases. But the address, on the whole,
was so socialistic, and its ideas so unfeminine and extreme, that it feel,
if not like a bomb-shell, at least like a small torpedo, in that assemblage
of conventional maidens and matrons. And Dolores beautiful and brilliant,
and (if too reserved to be a favorite), at least the most admired and envied
of her class, retired from the platform amidst a profound silence.
Madame Scranton felt deeply mortified at the conduct of
her model pupil. She had known the title of Dolores's address, but having
such unlimited faith in that young lady's discretion, and ability, she
had not deemed it necessary to inspect the manuscript. Other pupils needed
her attention, and she felt confident that Miss King would deliver a masterly
effort--one which would reflect credit upon herself and the Academy. Dolores
invariably did well. Madame was aware, that she had contracted some severe
prejudices against marriage; that she was, in fact, almost a man-hater.
But these ideas would no doubt wear away, in contact with the world. She
had not the slightest knowledge of their strong, tenacious hold upon Dolores's
mind, until she sat in shocked surprise, and listened to her startling
So soon as her duties would permit, Madame hastened to
make her apologies to Mrs. Maxon.
"I fear you will distrust my judgment," she said, "in
placing your daughter in close companionship with that young lady. But
really, the strange outburst from Miss King is wholly unaccountable to
me, I cannot understand where she contracted such ideas."
"I think I can," Mrs. Maxon answered, quietly, remembering
Helena's references to her friend in her letters. "I am about to take the
young lady home with me, and I hope I can rid her of some of her morbid
ideas. It is well for young ladies to make marriage a secondary, not the
first consideration of life; but it is very unfortunate to view the matter
through Miss King's diseased eyes. There must be some cause for her peculiar
state of mind. I shall try and fathom it."