CHAPTER I. A PRACTICAL JOKE.
On a cloudy December morning a gentleman, two ladies, and a boy stepped down from the express train at a station just above the Highlands on the Hudson. A double sleigh, overflowing with luxurious robes, stood near, and a portly coachman with difficulty restrained his spirited horses while the little party arranged themselves for a winter ride. Both the ladies were young, and the gentleman's anxious and almost tender solicitude for one of them seemed hardly warranted by her blooming cheeks and sprightly movements. A close observer might soon suspect that his assiduous attentions were caused by a malady of his own rather than by indisposition on her part.
The other young lady received but scant politeness, though seemingly in greater need of it. But the words of Scripture applied to her beautiful companion, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance." She had been surfeited all her life with attention, and though she would certainly have felt its absence, as she would the loss of wealth, life-long familiarity with both led her to place no special value upon them.
Therefore during the half-hour's ride her spirits rose with the rapid motion, and even the leaden sky and winter's bleakness could not prevent the shifting landscape from being a source of pleasure to her city eyes, while the devotion of her admirer or lover was received as a matter of course.
The frosty air brought color into her companion's usually pale face, but not of an attractive kind, for the north-east wind that deepened the vermilion in the beauty's cheek could only tinge that of the other with a ghastly blue. The delicate creature shivered and sighed.
"I wish we were there."
"Really, Bel, I sometimes think your veins are filled with water instead of blood. It's not cold to-day, is it, Mr. De Forrest?"
"Well, all I can say with certainty," he replied, "is that I have been in a glow for the last two hours. I thought it was chilly before that."
"You are near to 'glory' then," cried the boy saucily, from his perch on the driver's box.
"Of course I am," said Mr. De Forrest in a low tone, and leaning towards the maiden.
"You are both nearer being silly," she replied, pettishly. "Dan, behave yourself, and speak when you are spoken to."
The boy announced his independence of sisterly control by beginning to whistle, and the young lady addressed as "Bel" remarked, "Mr. De Forrest is no judge of the weather under the circumstances. He doubtless regards the day as bright and serene. But he was evidently a correct judge up to the time he joined you, Lottie."
"He joined you as much as he did me."
"O, pardon me; yes, I believe I was present."
"I hope I have failed in no act of politeness, Miss Bel," said DeForrest, a little stiffly.
"I have no complaints to make. Indeed, I have fared well, considering that one is sometimes worse than a crowd."
"Nonsense!" said Lottie, petulantly; and the young man tried not to appear annoyed.
The sleigh now dashed in between rustic gate-posts composed of rough pillars of granite; and proceeding along an avenue that sometimes skirted a wooded ravine, and again wound through picturesque groupings of evergreens, they soon reached a mansion of considerable size, which bore evidence of greater age than is usual with the homes in our new world....