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Maggie Lee by Mary J. Holmes

The usually quiet little village of Ellerton was, one June morning, thrown into a state of great excitement by the news that the large stone building on the hill, which, for several years had been shut up, was at last to have an occupant, and that said occupant was no less a personage than its owner, Graham Thornton, who, at the early age of twenty-eight, had been chosen to fill the responsible office of judge of the county. Weary of city life, and knowing that a home in the country would not materially interfere with the discharge of his new duties, particularly as Ellerton was within half an hour's ride of the city, young Thornton had conceived the idea of fitting up the old stone house, bequeathed to him by his grandfather, in a style suited to his abundant means and luxurious taste. Accordingly, for several weeks, the people of Ellerton were kept in a constant state of anxiety, watching, wondering and guessing, especially Miss Olivia Macey, who kept a small store in the outskirts of the village, and whose fertile imagination supplied whatever her neighbors lacked in actual knowledge of the proceedings at "Greystone Hall," as Judge Thornton called his place of residence.

At last, every thing was completed and the day appointed for the arrival of the Judge, who, disliking confusion, had never once been near his house, but, after a few general directions, had left the entire arrangement of the building and grounds to the management of one whom he knew to be a connoisseur in such matters. As was very natural, a great deal of curiosity was felt concerning the arrival of the distinguished stranger, and as his mother, a proud, stately woman, was to accompany him, Miss Olivia Macey, who boasted of having once been a schoolmate of the haughty lady, resolved upon meeting them at the depot, thinking she should thereby show them proper respect.

"So, Maggie," said she to her niece, a dark-haired, white-browed girl of fifteen, who, at noon, came bounding in from school, "so Maggie, you must watch the store, for there's no knowing how long I shall be gone. Miss Thornton may ask me home with her, and it would not be polite to refuse."

For an instant Maggie's dark brown eyes danced with mischief as she thought how improbable it was that the lofty Mrs. Thornton would seek to renew her acquaintance with one in Miss Macey's humble position, but the next moment they filled with tears, and she said, "Oh, aunt, must I stay from school again? It is the third time within a week. I never shall know anything!"

"Never mind, Mag," shouted little Ben, tossing his cap across the room and helping himself to the largest piece of pie upon the dinner-table. "Never mind. I'll stay with you, for I don't like to go to school any way. And we'll get our lessons at home."

Maggie knew how useless it would be to argue the point, so with a dejected air she seated herself at the open window and silently watched her aunt until she disappeared in the distance—then taking up her book, she tired to study, but could not, for the heavy pain at her heart which kept whispering of injustice done to her, unconsciously, perhaps, by the only mother she had ever known. Very dear to Miss Macey were the orphan children of her only sister, and faithfully did she strive to fulfill her trust, but she could not conceal her partiality for fun-loving, curly-haired Ben, nor the fact that the sensitive and ambitious Maggie, who thirsted for knowledge, was wholly unappreciated and misunderstood. Learning—learning was what Maggie craved, and she sat there alone that bright June afternoon, holding upon her lap the head of her sleeping brother, and watching the summer shadows as they chased each other over the velvety grass in the meadow beyond, she wondered if it would ever be thus with her—would there never come a time when she could pursue her studies undisturbed, and then, as the thought that this day made her fifteen years of age, her mind went forward to the future, and she said aloud—"Yes—three years from to-day and I shall be free—free as the air I breathe!"

But why that start, sweet Maggie Lee? Why that involuntary shudder as you think of the long three years from now? She cannot tell, but the shadows deepen on her fair, girlish face, and leaning her brow upon her hand, she thinks long and earnestly of what the three years may bring. A footstep on the floor—the first which has fallen there that afternoon—and Maggie looks up to see before her a tall, fine-looking man, who, the moment his eye fell upon her, checked the whistle, intended for his dog, which was trembling on his lip, and lifting his hat deferentially, he asked if "this were Miss Macey's store?"

"Yes, sir," answered Maggie, and laying Bennie gently down, she went round behind the counter, while the young man, gazing curiously at her, continued, "You surely are not Miss Macey?"

There was a most comical expression in the brown eyes which met the black ones of the stranger, as Maggie answered, "No sir, I am nobody but Maggie Lee."

There must have been something attractive either in the name or the little maiden who bore it, for long after the gentleman had received the articles for which he came, he lingered, asking the young girl numberless questions and playing with little Ben, who now wide awake, met his advances more than half way, and was on perfectly familiar terms both with the stranger and the dog Ponto, who had stretched his shaggy length before the door.

"Mag cries, she does, when Aunt Livy makes her stay home from school," said Ben, at last, beginning to feel neglected and wishing to attract attention.

Showing his white, handsome teeth, the gentleman playfully smoothed the silken curls of little Ben, and turning to the blushing Maggie, asked "if she were fond of books?"

"Oh, I love them so much," was the frank, impulsive answer, and ere ten minutes had passed away, Judge Thornton, for he it was, understood Maggie's character as well as if he had known her a lifetime.

Books, poetry, music, paintings, flowers, she worshiped them all, and without the slightest means either of gratifying her taste.

"I have in my library many choice books, to which you are welcome at any time when you will call at Greystone Hall," the stranger said at last.

"Greystone Hall!" gasped Maggie, the little red spots coming out all over her neck and face—"Greystone Hall!—then you must be—-"

"Judge Thornton, and your friend hereafter," answered the gentleman, offering his hand and bidding her good-by.

There are moments which leave their impress upon one's lifetime, changing instantaneously, as it were, our thoughts and feelings, and such an one had come to Maggie Lee, who was roused from a deep reverie by the shrill voice of her aunt, exclaiming, "Well, I've been on a Tom-fool's errand once in my life. Here I've waited in that hot depot over two trains, and heard at the last minute that Mrs. Thornton and her son came up last night, and I hain't seen them after all. It's too bad."

Very quietly Maggie told of the judge's call, repeating all the particulars of the interview; then stealing away to her chamber, she thought again, wondering where and what she would be three years from that day.

A year has passed away, and Graham Thornton, grown weary of his duties, has resigned the office of judge, and turned school-teacher, so the gossiping villagers say, and with some degree of truth, for regularly each day Maggie Lee and Ben go up to Greystone Hall, where they recite their lessons to its owner, though always in the presence of its lady mistress, who has taken a strange fancy to Maggie Lee, and whose white hand has more than once rested caressingly on the dark, glossy hair of the young girl. To a casual observer, the Maggie of sixteen is little changed from the Maggie of fifteen years; but to him, her teacher, she is not the same, for while in some respects she is more a woman and less a child, in everything pertaining to himself she is far more a child than when first he met her one short year ago. Then there was about her a certain self-reliance, which is now all gone, and he who has looked so often into the thoughts and feelings of that childish heart knows he can sway her at his will.

"But 'tis only a girlish friendship she feels for him," he says; "only a brotherly interest he entertains for her;" and so day after day she comes to his library, and on a low stool, her accustomed seat at his side, she drinks in new inspirations with which to feed that girlish friendship, while he, gazing down into her soft, brown, dreamy eyes, feels more and more how necessary to his happiness is her daily presence there. And if sometimes the man of the world asks himself "where all this will end?" his conscience is quieted by the answer that Maggie Lee merely feels toward him as she would toward any person who had done her a like favor. So all through the bright summer days and through the hazy autumn time, Maggie dreams on, perfectly happy, though she knows not why, for never yet has a thought of love for him entered her soul. She only knows that he to her is the dearest, best of friends, and Greystone Hall the loveliest spot on earth, but the wish that she might ever be its mistress has never been conceived.

With the coming of the holidays the lessons were suspended for a time, for there was to be company at the hall, and its master would need all his leisure.

"I shall miss you so much," he said to Maggie, as he walked with her across the fields which led to her humble home. "I shall miss you, but the claims of society must be met, and these ladies have long talked of visiting us."

"Are they young and handsome?" Maggie asked involuntarily.

"Only one—Miss Helen Deane is accounted a beauty, She is an heiress,
too, and the best match in all the city of L—," answered Mr.
Thornton, more to himself than Maggie, who at the mention of Helen
Deane felt a cold shadow folding itself around her heart.

Alas, poor Maggie Lee. The world has long since selected the proud Helen as the future bride of Graham Thornton, who, as he walks slowly back across the snow-clad field, tramples upon the delicate footprints you have made, and wishes it were thus easy to blot out from his heart all memory of you! Poor, poor Maggie Lee, Helen Deane is beautiful, far more beautiful than you, and when in her robes of purple velvet, with her locks of golden hair shading her soft eyes of blue, she flits like a sunbeam through the spacious rooms of Greystone Hall, waking their echoes with her voice of richest melody, what marvel if Graham Thornton does pay her homage, and reserves all thoughts of you for the midnight hour, when the hall is still and Helen's voice is no longer heard? He is but a man—a man, too, of the world, and so, though you, Maggie Lee, are very dear to him, he does not think it possible that he can raise you to his rank—make you the honored mistress of his home, and still lower himself not one iota from the station he has ever filled. And though his mother loves you, too, 'tis not with a mother's love, and should children ever climb her knee calling her son their sire, she would deem you a governess befitting such as they, and nothing more. But all this Maggie does not know, and when the visiting is over and Helen Deane is gone, she goes back to her old place and sits again at the feet of Graham Thornton, never wondering why he seems so often lost in thought, or why he looks so oft into her eyes of brown, trying to read there that he has not wronged her.

Another year has passed, and with the light of the full moon shining down upon him, Graham Thornton walks again with Maggie Lee across the fields where now the summer grass is growing. The foot-prints in last winter's snow have passed away just as the light will go out from Maggie's heart when Graham Thornton shall have told the tale he has come with her to tell. With quivering lips and bloodless cheek she listened while he told her indifferently, as if it were a piece of news she had probably heard before, that when the next full moon should shine on Greystone Hall, Helen Deane would be there—his bride!

"This, of course, will effectually break up our pleasant meetings," he continued, looking everywhere save in Maggie's face. "And this I regret—but my books are still at your disposal. You will like Helen, I think, and will call on her of course."

They had reached the little gate, and taking Maggie's hand, he would have detained her for a few more parting words, but she broke away, and in reply to his last question, hurriedly answered, "Yes, yes."

The next moment he was alone—alone in the bright moonlight. The door was shut. There was a barrier between himself and Maggie Lee, a barrier his own hands had built, and never again, so long as he lived, would Graham Thornton's conscience be at rest. Amid all the pomp of his bridal day—at the hour when, resplendent with beauty, Helen stood by his side at the holy altar, and breathed the vows which made her his forever—amid the gay festivities which followed, and the noisy mirth which for days pervaded his home, there was ever a still, small voice which whispered to him of the great wrong he had done to Maggie Lee, who never again was seen at Greystone Hall.

Much the elder Mrs. Thornton marveled at her absence, and once when her carriage was rolling past the door of the little store, she bade her coachman stop, while she herself went in to ask if her favorite were ill. Miss Olivia's early call at Greystone Hall had never been returned, and now she bowed coldly and treated her visitor with marked reserve, until she learned why she had come; then, indeed, her manner changed, but she could not tell her how, on the night when Graham Thornton had cruelly torn the veil from Maggie's heart, leaving it crushed and broken, she had found her long after midnight out in the tall, damp grass, where, in the wild abandonment of grief she had thrown herself; nor how, in a calmer moment she had told her sad story, exonerating him from wrong, and blaming only herself for not having learned sooner how much she loved one so far above her, so she simply answered, "Yes, she took a violent cold and has been sick for weeks. Her mother died of consumption; I am afraid Maggie will follow."

"Poor girl, to die so young," sighed Mrs. Thornton, as she returned to her carriage and was driven back to Greystone Hall, where, in a recess of the window Graham sat, his arm around his wife, and his fingers playing with the curls of her golden hair.

But the hand dropped nervously at his side when his mother startled him with the news that "Maggie Lee was dying." Very wonderingly the large blue eyes of Helen followed him, as, feigning sudden faintness, he fled out into the open air, which, laden though it was with the perfume of the summer flowers, had yet no power to quiet the voice within which told him that if Maggie died, he alone was guilty of her death. "But whatever I can do to atone for my error shall be done," he thought at last, and until the chill November wind had blasted the last bud, the choicest fruit and flowers which grew at Greystone Hall daily found entrance to the chamber of the sick girl, who would sometimes push them away, as if there still lingered among them the atmosphere they had breathed.

"They remind me so much of the past that I cannot endure them in my presence," she said one day when her aunt brought her a beautiful bouquet, composed of her favorite flowers, and the hot tears rained over the white, wasted face, as she ordered them from the room.

Much she questioned both her aunt and Bennie of her rival, whose beauty was the theme of the whole village, and once, when told that she was passing, she hastened to the window, but her cheek grew whiter still, and her hands clasped each other involuntarily as she saw by the side of the fair Helen the form of Graham Thornton. They both were looking toward her window, and as Helen met the burning gaze, she exclaimed, "Oh, Graham, it is terrible. It makes me faint," and shudderingly she drew nearer to her husband, who, to his dying hour, never forgot the wild, dark eyes which looked down so reproachfully upon him that memorable wintry day.

Three years have passed away since the time when first we met with Maggie Lee—three years which seemed so long to her then, and which have brought her so much pain. She has watched the snow and ice as they melted from off the hill-side. She has seen the grass spring up by the open door—has heard the robin singing in the old oak tree—has felt the summer air upon her cheek. She, has reached her eighteenth birthday, and ere another sun shall rise will indeed be free.

"Oh, I cannot see her die," cried poor little Ben, when he saw the pallor stealing over her face, and running out into the yard he threw himself upon the grass, sobbing bitterly, "My sister, oh, my sister."

"Is she worse?" said the voice of Graham Thornton. He was passing in the street and had heard the wailing cry. Ben knew that in some way Judge Thornton was connected with his grief, but he answered respectfully. "She is dying. Oh, Maggie, Maggie. What shall I do without her?"

"You shall live with me," answered Mr. Thornton.

'Twas a sudden impulse, and thinking the assurance that her brother should be thus provided for would be a comfort to the dying girl, he glided noiselessly into the sick room. But she did not know him, and falling on his knees by her side, he wept like a little child. "She was sleeping," they said, at last, and lifting up his head he looked upon her as she slept, while a fear, undefined and terrible, crept over him, as she lay so still and motionless. At length rising to his feet, he bent him down so low that his lips touched hers, and then, without a word, he went out from her presence, for he knew that Maggie Lee was dead!

The next day, at sunset, they buried her in the valley where the mound could always be seen from the window of Graham Thornton's room, and, as with folded arms and aching heart he stood by, while they lowered the coffin to its resting-place, he felt glad that it was so. "It will make me a better man," he thought," for when evil passions rise, and I am tempted to do wrong, I have only to look across the fields toward the little grave which but for me would not have been made so soon, and I shall be strengthened to do what is right."

Slowly and sadly he walked away, going back to his home, where, in a luxuriously furnished chamber, on a couch whose silken hangings swept the floor, lay his wife, and near her his infant daughter, that day four weeks of age. As yet she had no name, and when the night had closed upon them, and it was dark within the room, Graham Thornton drew his chair to the side of his wife, and in low, subdued tones, told her of the fair young girl that day buried from his sight. Helen was his wife, a gentle, faithful wife, and he could not tell her how much he had loved Maggie Lee, and that but for his foolish pride she would perhaps at that moment have been where Helen was, instead of sleeping in her early grave.—No, he could not tell her this, but he told her that Maggie had been very dear to him, and he feared it was for the love of him that she had died. "I wronged her. Nellie, darling," he said smoothing the golden tresses which lay on the pillow. "I broke her heart, and now that she is gone I would honor her memory by calling our first-born daughter 'MAGGIE LEE.' 'Tis a beautiful name," he continued, "and you will not refuse my request."

There was much of pride in Helen Thornton's nature, and she did refuse, for days and even weeks; but when she saw the shadows deepened on the brow of her husband, who would stand for hours looking out through the open window toward the valley where slept the village dead, and when the mother in pity for her son, joined also in the request, she yielded; and, as if the sacrifice were accepted and the atonement good, the first smile which ever dimpled the infant's cheek, played on its mouth, as with its large, strange, bright eyes fixed upon its father's face, it was baptized "Maggie Lee."

Four years of sunshine and storm have fallen upon Maggie's grave, where now a costly marble stands, while the handsome iron fence and the well-kept ground within show that some hand of love is often busy there. In a distant city Ben is striving to overcome his old dislike for books, and seeking to make himself what he knows his sister would wish him to be. At home, the little store has been neatly fitted up, and Miss Olivia sits all day long in her pleasant parlor, feeling sure that the faithful clerk behind the counter will discharge his duties well. Greystone Hall is beautiful as ever, with its handsome rooms, its extensive grounds, its winding walks, its bubbling fountains and its wealth of flowers, but there is a shadow over all—a plague-spot which has eaten into the heart of Graham Thornton, and woven many a thread of silver among his raven locks. It has bent the stately form of his lady mother, and his once gay-hearted wife wanders with a strange unrest from room to room, watching over the uncertain footsteps of their only child, whose large, dark eyes, so much like those which, four long years ago flashed down on Helen their scrutinizing gaze, are darkened forever, for little Maggie Lee is blind!

They are getting somewhat accustomed to it now—accustomed to calling her their "poor, blind bird," but the blow was crushing when first it came, and on the grave in the valley, Graham Thornton more than once laid his forehead in the dust, and cried, "My punishment is greater than I can bear,"

But He "who doeth all things well," has in a measure healed the wound, throwing so much of sunshine and of joy around her, who never saw the glorious light of day, that with every morning's dawn and every evening's shade, the fond parents bless their little blind girl, the angel of their home.