Since Janet's last marriage Maude had taken the entire management of affairs, and without her there would have been but little comfort or order in a household whose only servant was old and lazy, and whose eldest daughter was far too proud to work. This Maude knew, and with a flush of indignation upon her cheek she replied to her stepfather: "Very well, sir, I can pay for my board, if you like; but boarders, you know, never trouble themselves with the affairs of the kitchen."
The doctor was confounded. He knew he could not well dispense with Maude's services, and it had not before occurred to him that a housekeeper and boarder were two different persons.
"Ah--yes--just so," said he, "I see I'm laboring under a mistake; you prefer working for your board--all right," and feeling a good deal more disconcerted than he ever supposed it possible for him to feel, he gave up the contest.
Maude was at this time nearly sixteen years of age, and during the next year she was to all intents and purposes the housekeeper, discharging faithfully every duty and still finding time to pursue her own studies and superintend the education of little Louis, to whom she was indeed a second mother. She was very fond of books, and while Janet was with them she had with Nellie attended the seminary at Laurel Hill, where she stood high in all her classes, for learning was with her a delight, and when at last it seemed necessary for her to remain at home, she still devoted a portion of each day to her studies, reciting to a teacher who came regularly to the house and whom she paid with her own money. By this means she was at the age of seventeen a far better scholar than Nellie, who left every care to her stepsister, saying she was just suited to the kitchen work and the tiresome old books with which she kept her chamber littered. This chamber to which Nellie referred was Maude's particular province. Here she reigned joint sovereign with Louis, who thus early evinced a degree of intellectuality wonderful in one so young, and who in some things excelled even Maude herself.
Drawing and painting seemed to be his ruling taste, and as Dr. Kennedy still cherished for his crippled boy a love almost idolatrous, he spared neither money nor pains to procure for him everything necessary for his favorite pursuit. Almost the entire day did Louis pass in what he termed Maude's library, where, poring over books or busy with his pencil, he whiled the hours away without a sigh for the green fields and shadowy woods, through which he could never hope to ramble. And Maude was very proud of her artist brother--proud of the beautiful boy whose face seemed not to be of earth, so calm, so angel-like was its expression. All the softer, gentler virtues of the mother, and all the intellectual qualities of the father were blended together in the child, who presented a combination of goodness, talent, beauty, and deformity such as this is seldom seen. For his sister Maude, Louis possessed a deep, undying love which neither time nor misfortune could in any way abate. She was part and portion of himself--his life--his light--his all, in all--and to his childlike imagination a purer, nobler being had never been created than his darling sister Maude. And well might Louis Kennedy love the self-sacrificing girl who devoted herself so wholly to him, and who well fulfilled her mother's charge, "Care for my little boy."
Nellie, too, was well beloved, but he soon grew weary of her company, for she seldom talked of anything save herself and the compliments which were given to her youthful beauty. And Nellie, at the age of eighteen, was beautiful, if that can be called beauty which is void of heart or soul or intellect. She was very small, and the profusion of golden curls which fell about her neck and shoulders gave her the appearance of being younger than she really was. Her features were almost painfully regular, her complexion dazzlingly brilliant, while her large blue eyes had in them a dreamy, languid expression exceedingly attractive to those who looked for nothing beyond--no inner chamber where dwell the graces which make a woman what she ought to be. Louis' artist eye, undeveloped though it was, acknowledged the rare loveliness of Nellie's face. She would make a beautiful picture, he thought; but for the noble, the good, the pure, he turned to the dark-eyed Maude, who was as wholly unlike her stepsister as it was possible for her to be. The one was a delicate blonde, the other a decided brunette, with hair and eyes of deepest black. Her complexion, too, was dark, but tinged with a beautiful red, which Nellie would gladly have transferred to her own paler cheek. It was around the mouth, however, the exquisitely shaped mouth, and white even teeth, that Maude's principal beauty lay, and the bright smile which lit up her features when at all animated in conversation would have made a plain face handsome. There were some who gave her the preference, saying there was far more beauty in her clear, beautiful eyes and sunny smile than in the dollish face of Nellie, who treated such remarks with the utmost scorn. She knew that she was beautiful. She had known it all her life--for had she not been told so by her mirror, her father, her schoolmates, her Aunt Kelsey, and more than all by J.C. De Vere, the elegant young man whom she had met in Rochester, where she had spent the winter preceding the summer of which we are writing, and which was four and one-half years after Matty's death.
Greatly had the young lady murmured on her return against the dreary old house and lonely life at Laurel Hill, which did indeed present a striking contrast to the city gayeties in which she had been mingling. Even the cozy little chamber which the kind-hearted Maude had fitted up for her with her own means was pronounced heathenish and old-fashioned, while Maude herself was constantly taunted with being countryfied and odd.
"I wish J.C. De Vere could see you now," she said one morning to her sister, who had donned her working dress, and with sleeves rolled up and wide checked apron tied around her waist was deep in the mysteries of bread making.