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Bad Spelling by Mary J. Holmes

The last notes of the bell which duly summoned to their task the pupils of Madame Duvant's fashionable seminary had ceased, and in the school-room, recently so silent, was heard the low hum of voices, interspersed occasionally with a suppressed titter from some girl more mischievous than her companions. Very complacently Madame Duvant looked over the group of young faces, mentally estimating the probable gain she should receive from each, for this was the first day of the term, then with a few low-spoken words to the row of careworn, pale- faced teachers, she smoothed down the folds of her heavy gray satin and left the room, just as a handsome traveling-carriage stopped before the door.

The new arrival proved to be a fashionably-dressed woman, who, with an air of extreme hauteur, swept into the parlor, followed by two young girls, one apparently sixteen and the other fourteen years of age. The younger and, as some would call her, the plainer looking of the two, was unmistakably a "poor relation," for her face bore the meek, patient look of a dependent, while the proud black eyes and scornfully curved lip of the other, marked her as the daughter of the lady, who, after glancing about the room and satisfying herself that the chairs, tables, and so forth, were refined, gave her name as "Mrs. Greenleaf, wife of the Hon. Mr. Greenleaf, of Herkimer county, N.Y."

"I have come," said she, apparently speaking to Madame Duvant, but looking straight at the window, "I've come to place my daughter Arabella under your charge, and if she is pleased with your discipline, she will finish her education here—graduate—though I care but little for that, except that it sounds well. She is our only child, and, of course, a thorough education in the lower English branches is not at all necessary. I wish her to be highly accomplished in French, Italian, music, drawing, painting, dancing, and, perhaps, learn something of the old poets, so as to be able to talk about them a little, if necessary, but as for the other branches, such as geography, history, arithmetic, grammar, and the like, she can learn them by herself, and it is not my wish that she should waste her time over any thing so common. These will do for Mildred," and she glanced toward the poor relation, whose eyes were bent upon the carpet.

"She is the child of my husband's sister, and we have concluded to educate her for a teacher, so I wish, you to be very thorough with her in all those stupid things which Arabella is not to study."

Madame Duvant bowed, and Mrs. Greenleaf continued, "Last term they were at Bloomington Seminary, and, if you'll believe it, the principal insisted upon putting Arabella into the spelling-class, just because she didn't chance to spell every word of her first composition correctly! I dare say it was more Mildred's fault than hers, for she acknowledged to me that 'twas one of Mildred's old pieces that she found and copied."

An angry flash of Arabella's large black eyes, and a bright red spot on Mildred's cheek, were the only emotions manifested by the young girls, and Mrs. Greenfield proceeded: "Of course, I wouldn't submit to it—my daughter spelling baker, and all that nonsense, so I took her away at once. It was my wish that Mildred should remain, but husband, who is peculiar, wouldn't hear of it, and said she should go where Arabella did, so I've brought them both."

After little further conversation, it was arranged that Miss Arabella should go through a course of merely fashionable accomplishments, Madame Duvant assuring her mother that neither spelling-book nor dictionary should in any way annoy her. Mildred, on the contrary, was to be thoroughly drilled in every thing necessary for a teacher to know, Mrs. Greenleaf hinting that the sooner her education was completed the better she would be pleased, for it cost a great deal to clothe, feed and school her. Madame Duvant promised to execute the wishes of her patron, who gathered up her flowing robes, and with a dozen or more kisses for her daughter, and a nod of her head for Mildred, stepped into her carriage and was driven rapidly away.

Just across the spacious grounds of the Duvant Seminary, and divided from them by a wall which it seemed almost impossible to scale, stood a huge stone building, whose hacked walls, bare floors and dingy windows—from which were frequently suspended a cap, a pair of trousers, or a boy's leg—stamped it at once as "The College," the veriest pest in the world, as Madame Duvant called it, when, with all the vigilance both of herself and Argus-eyed teachers, she failed to keep her young ladies from making the acquaintance of the students, who winked at them in church, bowed to them in the streets, tied notes to stones and threw them over the ponderous wall, while the girls waved their handkerchiefs from their windows, and in various other ways eluded the watchfulness of their teachers. A great acquisition to the fun-loving members of the seminary was Arabella Greenleaf, and she had scarcely been there six weeks ere she was perfectly well acquainted with every student whom she considered at all worth knowing. But upon only one were her brightest glances and her most winsome smiles lavished, and that was George Clayton, a young man from South Carolina, who was said to be very wealthy. He was too honorable to join in the intrigues of his companions, and when at last he became attracted by the witching eyes and dashing manners of Arabella Greenleaf, he went boldly to Madame Duvant and asked permission to see the young lady in the parlor.

His request was granted, and during the two years he remained at college, he continued occasionally to call upon Arabella, who, each time that he saw her, seemed more pleasing, for she was beautiful, and when she chose to be so was very courteous and agreeable. One evening when George called as usual and asked to see her, he waited a long time, and was about making up his mind to leave, when a fair, delicate looking girl, with deep blue eyes and auburn hair, entered the room, introducing herself as Miss Graham, the cousin of Arabella, who, she said, was indisposed and unable to come down.

"She bade me say that she was very sorry not to see you," added Mildred, for she it was, blushing deeply as she met the eager, admiring eye of George Clayton.

Gladly would he have detained her, but with a polite good evening, she left him in a perfect state of bewilderment. "Strange that I never observed her before, for I must have seen her often," he thought, as he slowly wended his way back to his rooms, "and stranger still that Arabella never told me she had a cousin here."

The next time he met Arabella his first inquiry was for her cousin, and why she had never mentioned her. With a heightened color Arabella answered, "Oh, she's a little body, who never cares to be known—a perfect bookworm and man-hater."

The words bookworm and man-hater produced upon George Clayton a far different effect from what Arabella had intended, and he often found himself thinking of the soft blue eyes of Mildred Graham. Unlike some men, there was nothing terrible to him in a bookish woman, and he might, perhaps, have sought another interview with Mildred, but for a circumstance which threw her entirely in the shade.

The annual examination of Madame Duvant's seminary was drawing near. Arabella was to graduate, while both she and Mildred were competitors for a prize offered for the best composition. There was a look of wonder on Mildred's face, when she saw her cousin's name among the list, for composition was something in which Arabella did not excel. Greatly then did Mildred marvel when day after day she found her, pencil in hand, and apparently lost in thought, as she filled one sheet after another, until at last it was done.

"Now, Milly," said Arabella, "You correct the spelling and copy it for me—that's a good girl."

Mildred had acted in this capacity too often to refuse, and with a martyr's patience, she corrected and copied the manuscript, wondering the while from whence came the sudden inspiration which had so brightened Arabella's ideas. But if she had any suspicions of the truth, she kept them to herself, handing her own composition in with that of her cousin, and calmly waiting the result.

The examination was over. Arabella, who knew exactly what questions would be put to her, had acquitted herself with great credit, and her proud lady mother, who was one of the numerous visitors, fanned herself complacently as she heard on all sides the praises of her daughter.

And now nothing remained but the evening exhibition, at which music and the prize compositions formed the chief entertainment. At an early hour the large school-rooms were densely crowded. Among the first who came was George Clayton—securing a seat as near as possible to the stage, so that he should not lose a single word. He himself had graduated but two weeks previously, and was now about to make the tour of Europe together with his father, who was present. They were to sail the next night, and at nine o'clock this evening they were to leave for New York. During the examination Arabella had risen greatly in George's estimation, and if she had seemed beautiful to him then, she was tenfold more so now, when, with flowing curls and simple white muslin dress, she tripped gracefully across the stage, and seating herself at the piano, played and sang with exquisite skill the well- known song entitled, "No More, Never More."

Then followed the reading of the compositions, Mildred being called upon first, in a clear and peculiarly sweet voice she read, chaining to perfect silence her audience, which, when she was done, greeted her with noisy cheers, whispering one to another that she was sure to win. Arabella, at her own request, was the last. With proud, flashing eyes and queenly air, she coolly surveyed the mass of heads before her, caught an admiring glance from George Clayton, and then, with a steady hand unrolled her manuscript and read. Her subject was "The Outward and the Inward Life," and no gray-haired sage ever handled it more skilfully than she. When she finished one universal burst of applause shook the building to its centre, while her name was on every lip as she triumphantly left the room. Just then a distant bell struck the hour of nine, and George Clayton arose to go. He was sure of Arabella's success, and in the hall below, whither she had gone to bid him adieu, he shook her hand warmly, telling her how happy it made him to see her thus victorious, and winning from her a promise to write to him when he should be over the sea.

Half an hour later and the night express was bearing him far away.
Half an hour later, and with flushed brow Arabella stood up and
received the prize, which consisted of two elegantly bound volumes of
Wordsworth and Coleridge.

Forty minutes later, and from the seat by the door, a little bent, weird-looking woman arose, and making her way through the crowd, advanced until she stood upon the stage, then stretching her long, bony finger toward Arabella, who had returned, she said, "I am a lover of justice, and should I hold my peace, the very stones would cry out against me. Yonder young lady has no right to the prize, for the piece which she has palmed off as her own appeared in the Woodland Gazette, a paper published in an obscure New Hampshire village. How she came by it, she can, perhaps, explain, but I cannot."

At the commencement of this strange speech, Arabella arose as if to defy the woman, who was thus blasting her good name, but at the mention of the Woodland Gazette she fainted and was carried from the room. Madame Duvant now came forward and addressed a few low-spoken words to the woman, who answered aloud, "I have the best of reasons for what I have said. My son, who lives in New Hampshire, occasionally sends me the Gazette, and in one number, which came nearly a year ago, appeared this very article, taken originally from an old English paper."

"Prove it! Produce the paper!" fiercely ejaculated Mrs. Greenleaf, as she left the room in quest of her daughter.

"I can do so," answered the woman; "I never tore up a newspaper in my life, and if the audience will wait for the space of ten minutes, I can show them the very article"—saying which she glided noiselessly from the room.

She was a strange, half-crazy old creature, of wonderful memory, who occupied a small cottage in the suburbs of the village, and many doubts were expressed as to the veracity of her statement. But these were soon put to flight by her reappearance. Infolding the dingy yellow paper, she read aloud to her astonished hearers the article which proved to have been taken from the "London Examiner". There was now no longer a shadow of doubt and the prize was withdrawn from the treacherous Arabella, and as Mildred's composition was pronounced the next in order, it was bestowed upon her.

Mollified, indignant and almost frantic at this public disgrace, Arabella finally confessed to having stolen the piece from a paper sent her some months before by a former schoolmate. The next morning she left the village, heaping her pent-up wrath upon the head of her innocent cousin, who was destined in more ways than one to rival her.

Three months had passed away since the night of the exhibition, and in a private parlor at a London hotel sat George Clayton, rather impatiently awaiting the return of his servant from the post-office. As yet he had received no letter from Arabella, for though she had written it had failed to reach him, and while he in the Old World was marvelling at her long delay, she in the New was wondering why he did not answer. The mortification which she had endured affected her deeply, bringing on at last a slow fever, which confined her to her bed, where for weeks she lay, carefully attended by Mildred, who once, when she complained of George's neglect, suggested the possibility of his not having received the letter. This was a new idea to Arabella, and as she was herself unable to write, she persuaded Mildred to do it for her, and strange to say, the two letters reached their destination at the same time.

With eager haste George took them from his servant, who soon went out leaving him alone. The handwriting of both was not alike, and in some trepidation the young man broke the seal of the one bearing the more recent date. It was beautifully written, and mentally complimenting the fair writer, George opened the other, uttering an exclamation of surprise ere he had read a dozen lines. It was a sickly, sentimental affair, taken partly from an old letterwriter, and containing many highflown sentences concerning the "pearling rill," the "silverey starlite" and the "rozy morn" which, being spelled as they were, presented a most formidable aspect to the fastidious young man.

Although Arabella had taken much pains with her letter, at least one- fourth of the words were misspelt, and by the time George had finished reading, he entertained no other feeling toward the writer than one of disguest, to think that, with all her showy accomplishments, she had neglected what to him was the most important of all, for in nothing is the ignorance of a young lady more apparent than in a badly-spelled letter. It was a long time ere he answered it, and then the few lines which he wrote were so cold, so different from his first, that in a fit of anger Arabella tossed it into the fire, repenting the act the moment after, and, as if to make amends, writing in return a long letter, to which there came no response, and thus the correspondence ended.

Eighteen months later, and again Madame Duvant's rooms were crowded to overflowing, but this time Arabella Greenleaf was not there, though George Clayton was, eagerly watching each word and movement of Mildred Graham, whose uncle had insisted upon her remaining at school until she, too, should graduate, and who now, justly, received the highest honors of her class. Very beautifully looked the young girl, and as she modestly received the compliments of her friends, George Clayton's was not the only admiring eye which rested upon her, for many now paid her homage.

That night George asked to see her alone. His request was granted, and when next she parted from him it was as his betrothed. Immediately after George's return from Europe, he had heard the story of Arabella's perfidy, and if no other circumstances had interposed to wean him from her entirely, this alone would have done it, for he could not respect a woman who would thus meanly stoop to deception. He had lingered in G— for the purpose of renewing his former acquaintance, with Mildred, the result of which we have seen.

Mortified beyond measure, Arabella heard of her cousin's engagement, and when George came at last to claim his bride, she refused to see him, wilfully absenting herself from home that she should not witness the bridal, which took place one bright October morning, when the forest trees, as if in honor of the occasion, were dressed in their most gorgeous robes, and the birds were singing their farewell songs.

New misfortunes, however, awaited poor Arabella, for scarcely was Mildred gone to her southern home when the red flag of the auctioneer waved from the windows of Mr. Greenleaf's luxurious house, which, with its costly furniture, was sold to the highest bidder, and the family were left dependent upon their own exertions for support. When the first shock was over, Mr. Greenleaf proposed that his daughter should teach, and thus bring into use her boasted accomplishments. For a time Arabella refused, but hearing at last of a situation which she thought might please her, she applied for it by letter. But alas, the mistake she made when she abandoned the spelling-book for the piano, again stood in the way, for no one would employ a teacher so lamentably ignorant of orthography. Nor is it at all probable she will ever rise higher than her present position—that of a plain sewer—until she goes back to first principles, and commences again the despised column beginning with "baker!"