CHAPTER XVII

CLOTELLE

THE curtain rises seven years after the death of Isabella. During that interval, Henry, finding that nothing could induce his mother-in-law to relinquish her hold on poor little Clotelle, and not liking to contend with one on whom a future fortune depended, gradually lost all interest in the child, and left her to her fate.

Although Mrs. Miller treated Clotelle with a degree of harshness scarcely equalled, when applied to one so tender in years, still the child grew every day more beautiful, and her hair, though kept closely cut, seemed to have improved in its soft, silk-like appearance. Now twelve years of age, and more than usually well-developed, her harsh old mistress began to view her with a jealous eye.

Henry and Gertrude had just returned from Washington, where the husband had been on his duties as a member of Congress, and where he had remained during the preceding three years without returning home. It was on a beautiful evening, just at twilight, while seated at his parlor window, that Henry saw a young woman pass by and go into the kitchen. Not aware of ever having seen the person before, he made an errand into the cook's department to see who the girl was. He, however, met her in the hall, as she was about going out.

"Whom did you wish to see?" he inquired.

"Miss Gertrude," was the reply.

"What did you want to see her for?" he again asked.

"My mistress told me to give her and Master Henry her compliments, and ask them to come over and spend the evening."

"Who is your mistress?" he eagerly inquired.

"Mrs. Miller, sir," responded the girl.

"And what's your name?" asked Henry, with a trembling voice.

"Clotelle, sir," was the reply.

The astonished father stood completely amazed, looking at the now womanly form of her who, in his happier days, he had taken on his knee with so much fondness and alacrity. It was then that he saw his own and Isabella's features combined in the beautiful face that he was then beholding. It was then that he was carried back to the days when with a woman's devotion, poor Isabella hung about his neck and told him how lonely were the hours in his absence. He could stand it no longer. Tears rushed to his eyes, and turning upon his heel, he went back to his own room. It was then that Isabella was revenged; and she no doubt looked smilingly down from her home in the spirit-land on the scene below.

On Gertrude's return from her shopping tour, she found Henry in a melancholy mood, and soon learned its cause. As Gertrude had borne him no children, it was but natural, that he should now feel his love centering in Clotelle, and he now intimated to his wife his determination to remove his daughter from the hands of his mother-in-law.

When this news reached Mrs. Miller, through her daughter, she became furious with rage, and calling Clotelle into her room, stripped her shoulders bare and flogged her in the presence of Gertrude.

It was nearly a week after the poor girl had been so severely whipped and for no cause whatever, that her father learned on the circumstance through one of the servants. With a degree of boldness unusual for him, he immediately went to his mother-in-law and demanded his child. But it was too late,--she was gone. To what place she had been sent no one could tell, and Mrs. Miller refused to give any information whatever relative to the girl.

It was then that Linwood felt deepest the evil of the institution under which he was living; for he knew that his daughter would be exposed to all the vices prevalent in that part of the country where marriage is not recognized in connection with that class.