The Female Prose Writers of America: With Portraits, Biographical Notices, and Specimens of their Writings/Mary Spenser Pease/The Sisters

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THE SISTERS.

Just as the “dark-eyed Antelope” had come within hearing of the village noises—a welcome sound to his heart—such as the barking of dogs, the ploughboy’s loud “gee, whoa,” the merry, ringing voice of children at play,—just as he reached the well-known “Devil’s Rock,” after passing old “Haystack,” that venerable mountain-hill, rising up grim and dark at his right hand, he was startled with the sudden step of a deer as it bounded lightly out from the woods into the road. But the deer proved to be a two-footed dear—and two pretty and nimble little feet they were—and, as they sped on, from the same path in the thick greenwood, out popped another dear little maiden in fleet pursuit of the first. A hasty and casual glance was all the little fairies, or whatever they were, vouchsafed the traveller. He watched them in their airy course until a bend in the road hid them from his view. Their silvery laugh, still sounding in his ear, reminded him of all the wild and beautiful things he had ever read in fairy-lore, or thought in his own bright imaginings. With the superstition of those early times, any one might have been justifiable in fancying the flying maidens connected with those mysterious little beings, the fairies—perhaps pet daughters of the Fay-Queen herself—for they were as slightly and delicately fashioned as the lily-bell, and, like the lily, their dress was purest white. Garlands of holly and woodland honeysuckle wreathed their floating hair and slender waists.

The young man quickened his pace, and as he turned the wooded point, he once more caught sight of the fugitives, and also of the pretty village beyond. The two young girls were now walking, with each an arm around the other’s waist—as it is the fashion with maidens when they have no stronger arm to encircle them.

It was not long before the more rapid strides of the traveller brought him close to the side of the two. The simplicity of those early times rendered the ceremony of an introduction as useless, as it in reality should be, and the young people soon found themselves in the heart of a spirited conversation.

The traveller discovered the pretty maidens to be sisters, and daughters of the first landed proprietor of the village, and that their names were Annie and Irene Norwood.

In return for their artless and confidential conversation, the stranger entertained them with his adventure among the Indians—at which they duly shuddered, congratulating him on his escape—and also with many other marvels he had encountered during his travels. As they found themselves at the door of a “well-to-do-”looking mansion, Annie Norwood gaily remarked, “You have delighted us with your vivid and graphic descriptions, sir stranger, but you have not yet told us by what name we shall introduce our new friend to our dear parents.”

“Forgive my seeming want of frankness, but I could hardly find an opportunity of insinuating my name, especially before it was asked of me.”

“Ah!” laughingly said Annie, “that undoubtedly is meant to correct us for our glibness of tongue, in revealing unasked, not only our names, but all that concerns us, or ours, nearly as far back as the Norman conquest, for we can date our ancestors back quite to that period.”

“Hush, Nannie, that sounds too much like bragging,” interrupted Irene, “and you do not give the stranger any opportunity—”

“Nay, sister,” said the other playfully, “it is yourself now that is preventing the desired revelation.”

“Hist, sister Nan—”

The young man fixed his midnight eyes on the two, wondering in his heart which was the most beautiful—and in his marvel he forgot to satisfy the natural curiosity of the sisters as to who he was, until Nannie exclaimed with an arch naiveté that well became her dimpled face:

“Will you not walk in, and rest and refresh yourself, Mr.——; my mother will be in the highest degree gratified to entertain so distinguished a guest, Mr.——”

“Norwood,” quietly said the stranger.

“Norwood!” ejaculated both of the sisters.

Upon comparing notes, the family found the stranger to be a son of the eldest of the four brothers Norwood—the one who did not “come over” in person;—perhaps preferring to wait and send his present son as substitute.

This elder branch of the family had a title, and young Norwood, being a second son, might or might not become a baronet.

A refreshing dinner, a stroll in the garden and down in the meadow, to the brook-side with the bright sisters—Norwood being yet undecided as to which was the most beautiful—a daintily cooked and bountiful supper, completed the first day of him whom the Witch-Hazel had fantastically named the “dark-eyed Antelope.” And now evening set in; and a merrier or happier evening could not well have been conceived than the one enjoyed by the Norwoods. The gay Annie initiated her handsome cousin into the mystery of “peas porridge hot.” And the old hall rung again with the clapping of the little white hands of “Nannie,” and the more manly ones of young Norwood. While the gentle, quiet Irene sang old ballads for him, in her sweet tender voice. Occasionally the clear rich voice of “Nan” joined her sister’s in a harmonious duet.

Bed-time came at length, and to the new-found cousin was signed the “best room,” whose linen-spread bed vied in whiteness with the winter’s snow. The sisters had taken care to fill vases with the choicest flowers the garden could boast, and the room was fragrant with the damask rose, the sweetbrier and mignonette.

Through his dreams all night, floated visions of two most lovely, joyous beings. Occasionally a dark, nut-brown face, of exquisite beauty, bent lowly over him; while, with the musical voices of the sisters—melting in sweet cadences with his sleep—mingled the lowest of soft Indian accents, whispering wild lullabies to his spirit.