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Diamonds by Mary J. Holmes

"The boys mustn't look at the girls, and the girls must look on their books," was said at least a dozen times by the village school-master, on that stormy morning when Cora Blanchard and I—she in her brother's boots, and I in my father's socks—waded through drift after drift of snow to the old brown school-house at the foot of the long, steep hill.

We were the only girls who had dared to brave that wintry storm, and we felt amply repaid for our trouble, when we saw how much attention we received from the ten tall boys who had come—some for fun—some because they saw Cora Blanchard go by—and one, Walter Beaumont, because he did not wish to lose the lesson of the day. Our teacher, Mr. Grannis, was fitting him for college, and every moment was precious to the white-browed, intellectual student, who was quite a lion among us girls, partly because he was older, and partly because he never noticed us as much as did the other boys. On this occasion, however, he was quite attentive to Cora, at least, pulling off her boots, removing her hood, and brushing the large snow-flakes from her soft wavy hair, while her dark brown eyes smiled gratefully upon him, as he gave her his warm seat by the stove.

That morning Cora wrote to me slyly on her slate: "I don't care if mother does say Walter Beaumont is poor as poverty—I like him best of anybody in the world—don't you?"

I thought of the big red apple in my pocket, and of the boy who had so carefully shaken the snow from off my father's socks, and answered, "No"—thinking, the while, that I should say yes, if Walter had ever treated me as he did my playmate and friend Cora Blanchard. She was a beautiful young girl, a favorite with all, and possessing, as it seemed, but one glaring fault—a proneness to estimate people for their wealth rather than their worth. This in a measure was the result of her home-training, for her family, though far from being rich, were very aristocratic, and strove to keep their children as much as possible from associating with the "vulgar herd," as they styled the laboring class of the community. In her secret heart Cora had long cherished a preference for Walter, though never, until the morning of which I write, had it been so openly avowed. And Walter, too, while knowing how far above him she was in point of position, had dared to dream of a time when a bright-haired woman, with a face much like that of the girlish Cora, would gladden his home, wherever it might be.

That noon, as we sat around the glowing stove, we played as children will, and it came my turn to "answer truly whom I intended to marry." Without a thought of the big apple, the snowy socks, or of any one in particular, I replied unhesitatingly—"The one I love best," and the question passed on to Cora, who was sitting by the side of Walter Beaumont. He had not joined in our sport, but now his eye left his book and rested upon Cora with an expression half fearful, half expectant. She, too, glanced at him, and as if the spirit of prophecy were upon her, she said—"I shall not marry the one I love the best, but the one who has the most money, and can give me the handsomest diamonds. Sister Fanny has a magnificent set, and she looks so beautifully when she wears them."

Instantly there fell a shadow on Walter Beaumont's face, and his eye returned again to the Latin lettered page. But his thoughts were not of what was written there; he was thinking of the humble cottage on the borders of the wood, of the rag-carpet on the oaken floor, of the plain old-fashioned furniture, and of the gentle, loving woman who called him "her boy," and that spot her home. There were no diamonds there—no money—and Cora, if for these she married, would never be his wife. Early and late he toiled and studied, wearing his threadbare coat and coarse brown pants—for an education, such as he must have, admitted of no useless expenditure, and the costly gems which Cora craved were not his to give. In the pure, unselfish love springing up for her within his heart, there were diamonds of imperishable value, and these, together with the name he would make for himself, he would offer her, but nothing more, and for many weeks there was a shadow on his brow, though he was kind and considerate to her as of old.

As the spring and summer glided by, however, there came a change, and when, in the autumn, he left our village for New Haven, there was a happy, joyous look upon his face, while a tress of Cora's silken hair was lying next his heart. Every week he wrote to her, and Cora answered, always showing to me what she had written, but never a word of his. "There was too much love," she said, "too much good advice in his letters for me to see," and thus the time passed on, until Walter, who had entered the junior class, was graduated with honor, and was about to commence a theological course at Andover, for he had made the ministry his choice. He was twenty-one now, and Cora was sixteen. Wondrously beautiful was she to look upon, with her fair young face, her soft brown eyes, and wavy hair. And Walter Beaumont loved her devotedly, believing too, that she in turn loved him, for one summer afternoon, in the green old woods which skirted the little village, she had sat by his side, and with the sunbeams glancing down upon her through the overhanging boughs, she had, told him so, and promised some day to be his wife. Still, she would not hear of a positive engagement—both should be free to change their mind if they wished, she said, and with this Walter was satisfied.

"I have no diamonds to give you, darling," he said, drawing her close to him; and Cora, knowing to what he referred, answered that "his love was dearer to her than all the world besides." Alas, that woman should be so fickle!

The same train which carried Walter away, brought Mrs. Blanehard a letter from her daughter, a dashing, fashionable woman, who lived in the city, and who wished to bring her sister Cora "out" the coming winter. "She is old enough, now," she wrote, "to be looking for a husband, and of course she'll never do anything in that by-place."

This proposition, which accorded exactly with Mrs. Blanchard's wishes, was joyfully acceded to by Cora, who, while anticipating the pleasure which awaited her, had yet no thought of proving false to Walter, and in the letter which she wrote informing him of her plan, she ensured him of her unchanging fidelity, little dreaming that the promise thus made would so soon be broken! Petted, caressed, flattered and admired, as she was in the circle of her sister's friends, how could she help growing worldly and vain, or avoid contrasting the plain, unassuming Walter, with the polished and gayly-dressed butterflies who thronged Mrs. Burton's drawing-room. When the summer came again, she did not return to us as we had expected, but we heard of her at Saratoga, and Newport, the admired of all admirers; while one, it was said, a man of high position and untold wealth, bid fair to win the beauteous belle. Meantime, her letters to Walter grew short and far between, ceasing at length altogether; and one day, during the second winter of her residence in the city, I received from her a package containing his miniature, the books he had given her, and the letters he had written. These she wished me to give him when next I saw him, bidding me tell him to think no more of one who was not worthy of him.

"To be plain, Lottie," she wrote, "I'm engaged, and though Mr. Douglass is not a bit like Walter, he has a great deal of money, drives splendid horses, and I reckon we shall get on well enough. I wish, though, he was not quite so old. You'll be shocked to hear that he is almost fifty, though he looks about forty! I know I don't like him as well as I did Walter, but after seeing as much of the world as I have, I could not settle down into the wife of a poor minister. I am not good enough, and you must tell him so. I hope he won't feel badly—poor Walter. I've kept the lock of his hair. I couldn't part with that, but, of course, Mr. Douglass will never see it. His hair is gray! Good-by."

This was what she wrote, and when I heard from her again, she was Cora Douglass, and her feet were treading the shores of the old world, whither she had gone on a bridal tour.

In the solitude of his chamber, the young student learned the sad news from a paragraph in a city paper, and bowing his head upon the table, he strove to articulate, "It is well," but the flesh was weak, warring with the spirit, and the heart which Cora Blanchard had cruelly trampled down, clung to her still with a death-like fondness, and followed her even across the waste of waters, cried out—"How can I give her up!" But when he remembered, as he ere long did, that 'twas a sin to love her now, he buried his face in his hands, and, calling on God to help him in this his hour of need, wept such tears as never again would fall for Cora Blanchard.

The roses in our garden were faded, and the leaves of autumn were piled upon the ground, ere he came to his home again, and I had an opportunity of presenting him with the package which many months before had been committed to my care. His face was very pale, and his voice trembled as he asked me—"Where is she now?"

"In Italy," I answered, adding that "her husband was said to be very wealthy."

Bowing mechanically, he walked away, and a year and a half went by ere I saw him again. Then he came among us as our minister. The old, white-haired pastor, who for so long had told us of the Good Shepherd and the better land, was sleeping at last in the quiet graveyard, and the people had chosen young Walter Beaumont to fill his place. He was a splendid-looking man—tall, erect, and finely formed, with a most winning manner, and a face which betokened intellect of the highest order. We were proud of him, all of us—proud of our clergyman, who, on the third Sabbath in June, was to be ordained in the old brick church, before whose altar he had years ago been baptized, a smiling infant.

On the Thursday afternoon preceding the ordination, a large traveling carriage, covered with dust and laden with trunks, passed slowly through our village, attracting much attention. Seated within it was a portly, gray-haired man, resting his chin upon a gold-headed cane, and looking curiously out at the people in the street, who stared as curiously at him. Directly opposite him, and languidly reclining upon the soft cushions, was a white, proud-faced lady, who evidently felt no interest in what was passing around her, for her eyes were cast down, and her thought seemed busy elsewhere. I was sitting at my chamber window, gazing out upon them, and just as they drew near the gate, the lady raised her eyes—the soft, brown eyes, which once had won the love of Walter Beaumont, and in which there was now an unmistakable look of anguish, as if the long eyelashes, drooping so wearily upon the colorless cheek, were constantly forcing back the hidden tears. And this was Cora Douglass, come back to us again from her travels in a foreign land. She knew me in a moment, and in her face there was much of her olden look as, bending forward, she smiled a greeting, and waved toward me her white, jeweled hand, on which the diamonds flashed brightly in the sunlight.

The next morning we met, but not in the presence of the old man, her husband. Down in the leafy woods, about a quarter of a mile from Mrs. Beaumont's cottage, was a running brook and a mossy bank, overshadowed by the sycamore and elm. This, in the days gone by, had been our favorite resort. Here had we built our play-house, washing our bits of broken china in the rippling stream—here had we watched the little fishes as they darted in and out of the deeper eddies—here had we conned our daily tasks—here had she listened to a tale of love, the memory of which seemed but a mocking dream, and here, as I faintly hoped, I found her. With a half-joyful, half-moaning cry, she threw her arms around my neck, and I could feel her tears dropping upon my face as she whispered, "Oh, Lottie, Lottie, we have met again by the dear old brook."

For a few moments she sobbed as if her heart would break, then suddenly drying her tears, she assumed a calm, cold, dignified manner, such as I had never seen in Cora Blanchard. Very composedly she questioned me of what I had done during her absence, telling me, too, of her travels, of the people she had seen and the places she had visited, but never a word said she of him she called her husband. From the bank where we sat, the village grave-yard was discernible, with its marble gleaming through the trees, and at last, as her eye wandered in that direction, she said, "Have any of our villagers died? Mother's letters were never very definite."

"Yes," I answered, "Our minister, Mr. Sumner, died two months ago."

"Who takes his place?" she asked; and, as if a suspicion of the truth were flashing upon her, her eyes turned toward me with an eager, startled glance.

"Walter Beaumont. He is to be ordained next Sabbath, and you are just in time," I replied, regretting my words the next instant, for never saw I so fearful a look of anguish as that which swept over her face, and was succeeded by a cold, hard, defiant expression, scarcely less painful to witness.

She would have questioned me of him, I think, had not an approaching footstep caught our ear, sending a crimson flush to Cora's hitherto marble cheek, and producing on me a most unpleasant sensation, for I knew that the gray-haired man now within a few paces of us, was he who called that young creature his wife. Golden was the chain by which he had bound her, and every link was set with diamonds and costly stones, but it had rusted and eaten to her very heart's core, for the most precious gem of all was missing from that chain—love for her husband, who, fortunately for his own peace of mind, was too conceited to dream how little she cared for him. He was not handsome, and still many would have called him a fine-looking, middle-aged man, though there was something disagreeable in his thin, compressed lips and intensely black eyes—the one betokening a violent temper, and the other an indomitable will. To me he was exceedingly polite—rather too much so for my perfect ease, while toward Cora he tried to be very affectionate.

Seating himself at her side, and throwing his arm around her, he called her a "little truant," and "why she had run away from him."

Half pettishly she answered, "Because i like sometimes to be alone," then, rising up and turning toward me she asked if "the water still ran over the, old mill dam in the west woods just as it used to do," Saying if it did, she wished to see it. "You can't go," she continued, addressing her husband, "for it is more than a mile, over fences and plowed fields."

This was sufficient, for Mr. Douglass was very fastidious in all matters pertaining to his dress, and had no fancy for soiling his white pants, or patent leathers. So Cora and I set off together, while he walked slowly back to the village. Scarcely was he out of sight, however, when, seating herself beneath a tree, and throwing herself flat upon the ground, Cora announced her intention of not going any further.

"I only wished to be alone. I breathe so much better," she said, and when I looked inquiringly at her, she continued, "Never marry a man for his wealth, Lottie, unless you wish to become as hard, as wicked and unhappy as I am. John Douglass is worth more than half a million, and yet I would give it all if I were the same little girl who, six years ago, waded with you through the snow-drifts to school on that stormy day. Do you remember what we played that noon and my foolish remark that I would marry for money and diamonds! Woe is me, I've won them both!" and her tears fell fast on the sparkling gems which covered her slender fingers.

Just then I saw in the distance a young man whom I knew to be Walter Beaumont. He seemed to be approaching us, and when Cora became aware of that, she started up and grasping my arm, hurried away, saying, as she cast backward a fearful glance, "I would rather die than meet him now. I am not prepared."

For the remainder of the way we walked on in silence, until we reached her mother's gate, where we found her husband waiting for her. Bidding me good morning she followed him slowly up the graveled walk and I saw her no more until the following Sabbath. It was a gloriously beautiful morning, and at an early hour the old brick church was filled to overflowing, for Walter had many friends, and they came together gladly to see him made a minister of God. During the first part of the service he was very pale, and his eye wandered often toward the large, square pew where sat a portly man and a beautiful young woman, richly attired in satin and jewels. It had cost her a struggle to be there, but she felt that she must look again on one whom she had loved so much and so deeply wronged. So she came, and the sight of him standing there in his early manhood, his soft brown hair clustering about his brow, and his calm, pale face wearing an expression almost angelic, was more than she could bear, and leaning forward she kept her countenance concealed from view until the ceremony was ended, and Walter's clear, musical voice announced the closing hymn. Then she raised her head, and her face, seen through the folds of her costly veil, looked haggard and ghastly, as if a fierce storm of passion had swept over her. By the door she paused, and when the newly-ordained clergyman passed out, she offered him her hand, the hand which, when he held it last, was pledged to him, There were diamonds on it now— diamonds of value rare, but their brightness was hateful to that wretched woman, for she knew at what a fearful price they had been bought.

They did not meet again, and only once more did Walter see her; then, from our door, he looked out upon her as with her husband she dashed by on horseback, her long cloth skirt almost sweeping the ground, and the plumes of her velvet cap waving in the air.

"Mrs. Douglass is a fine rider," was all Walter said, and the tone of his voice indicated that she was becoming to him an object of indifference. Desperately had he fought with his affection for her, winning the victory at last, and now the love he once had felt for her was slowly and surely dying out, The next week, tiring of our dull village life, Cora left us, going to Nahant, where she spent most of the summer, and when in the winter we heard from her again, she was a widow—the sole heir of her husband who had died suddenly, and generously left her that for which she married him—his money,

"Will Walter Beaumont marry Cora now?" I had asked myself many a time, without, however, arriving at any definite conclusion, when a little more than a year succeeding Mr. Douglass's death, she wrote, begging me to come to her, as she was very lonely, and the presence of an old friend would do her good. I complied with her request, and within a few days was an inmate of her luxurious home, where everything indicated the wealth of its possessor. And Cora, though robed in deepest black, was more like herself, more like the Cora of other days, than I had seen her before since her marriage. Of her husband she spoke freely and always with respect, saying he had been kinder far to her than she had deserved. Of Walter, too, she talked, appearing much gratified when I told her how he was loved and appreciated by his people.

One morning when we sat together in her little sewing room, she said, "I have done what you perhaps, will consider a very unwomanly act. I have written to Walter Beaumont. Look," and she placed in my hand a letter, which she bade me read. It was a wild, strange thing, telling him of the anguish she had endured, of the tears she had shed, of the love which through all she had cherished for him, and begging him to forgive her if possible, and be to her again what he had been years ago. She was not worthy of him, she said, but he could make her better, and in language the most touching, she besought of him not to cast her off, or despise her because she had stepped so far aside from womanly delicacy as to write to him this letter. "I will not insult you," she wrote in conclusion, "by telling you of the money for which I sold myself, but it is mine now, lawfully mine, and most gladly would I share it with you."

"You will not send him this?" I said. "You cannot be in earnest?"

But she was determined, and lest her resolution should give way, she rang the bell, ordering the servant who appeared to take it at once to the office. He obeyed, and during the day she was unusually gay, singing snatches of old songs, and playing several lively airs upon her piano, which for months had stood unopened and untouched. That evening, as the sun went down, and the full moon rose over the city, she asked me to walk with her, and we, ere long, found ourselves several streets distant from that in which she lived. Groups of people were entering a church near by, and from a remark which we overheard, we learned that there was to be a wedding.

"Let us go in," she said, "it may be some one I know," and entering together, we took our seats just in front of the altar.

Scarcely were we seated when a rustling of satin announced the approach of the bridal party, and in a moment they appeared moving slowly up the aisle. My first attention was directed toward the bride, a beautiful young creature, with a fair sweet face, and curls of golden hair falling over her white, uncovered neck.

"Isn't she lovely?" I whispered; but Cora did not hear me.

With her hands locked tightly together, her lips firmly compressed, and her cheeks of an ashen hue, she was gazing fixedly at the bridegroom, on whom I, too, now looked, starting quickly, for it was our minister, Walter Beaumont! The words were few which made them one, Walter and the young girl at his side, and when the ceremony was over, Cora arose, and leaning heavily upon my arm, went out into the open air, and on through street after street, until her home was reached. Then, without a word, we parted—I going to my room, while she, through the live-long night, paced up and down the long parlors where no eye could witness the working of the mighty sorrow which had come upon her.

The next morning she was calm, but very, very pale, saying not a word of last night's adventure. Neither did she speak of it for several days, and then she said, rather abruptly, "I would give all I possess if I had never sent that letter. The mortification is harder to bear even than Walter's loss. But he will not tell of it, I'm sure. He is too good—too noble," and tears, the first she had shed since that night, rained through her thin, white fingers. It came at last—a letter bearing Walter's superscription, and with trembling hands she opened it, finding, as she had expected, his wedding card, while on a tiny sheet was written, "God pity you, Cora, even as I do.—WALTER."

"Walter! Walter!" she whispered, and her quivering lips touched once the loved name which she was never heard to breathe again.

Prom that day Cora Douglass faded, and when the autumnal days were come, and the distant hills were bathed in the hazy October light, she died. But not in the noisy city, for she had asked to be taken home, and in the pleasant room where we had often sat together, she bade me her last good-by. They buried her on the Sabbath, and Walter's voice was sad and low as with Cora's coffin at his feet he preached from the words, "I am the Resurrection and the Life." His young wife, too, wept over the early dead, who had well nigh been her rival, and whose beautiful lace wore a calm, peaceful smile, as if she were at rest.

There was a will, they said; and in it Walter was generously remembered, while to his wife was given an ivory box, containing Cora's diamonds—necklace, bracelets, pin and ear-rings—all were there; and Walter, as he looked upon them, drew nearer to him his fair girl-wife, who but for these, might not, perchance, have been to him what she was—his dearest earthly treasure.