Ariel Custer, p.1Grace Livingston Hill
© 2012 by Grace Livingston Hill
Print ISBN 978-1-61626-647-9
Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-62029-020-0
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All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
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Table of Contents
About the Author
Ariel Custer stood for a moment on the old white-pillared porch of her childhood’s home and watched the wagon drive out the gate and down the road toward town with the last pieces of her grandmother’s dear old furniture. They were being taken to Ezra Brownleigh’s to be stored for her until sometime in the dim and distant future when she should be able to wrest from the great unfriendly world a home and a spot to put them. Ezra Brownleigh had brought them in for her at the auction sale the week before.
It was very early in the morning, and the sun was still making long, slanted rays of brightness over the old lawn between the oak trees and shrubs. A mockingbird was singing wildly sweet in the maple by the library window as if there were no such thing as sorrow and desolation in the bright world, fairly splitting his throat with praise; and in the intervals of his trills Ariel could hear the creaking of one wagon wheel as it lumbered over the ruts on the old Virginia road.
Suddenly the tears blurred into her eyes, and her white throat stirred hysterically. It seemed as if she could not bear it. All that was left of the dear old home, every memento of her precious father and mother and frail little grandmother who had lingered longest with her on the earth, was packed into the rickety wagon and going down the road to storage. Ariel caught her breath and turned quickly inside the door. Not even the mockingbird must see her weeping. She was a Custer, and the Custers kept their pride and bore smiling what came to them. She must not be weak or fainthearted. Besides, was not God in His heaven? Was He not watching over her tenderly, even though for the time it seemed as if He had withdrawn His tender care? The faith of her grandmother was in her strongly. Somewhere ahead there was brightness, or if there was not, there was the brightness of eternity when her way of this pilgrimage was over. She had no thought of blaming God for the trials, or the darkness, or the hardships of the way she had to go to meet Him. That she was on her way Home was a settled fact in her mind that no philosophical reasoning could disturb. She might have to suffer through a century more or less, but the loyalty of her heart belonged to God, and she was one of those in whom faithfulness is written large. God couldn’t forsake. That was the keynote of her life. Whatever came was under His overruling hand and could never overwhelm because His grace was sufficient. Therefore she was safe wherever and however she might find herself.
Ariel was one of those rare girls somehow left over from what the world whimsically calls with a smile and a sneer “the Victorian Age,” though it is to be doubted if even the Victorian Age saw many like her.
She still had her hair, all of it, wonderful hair, long and heavy with a glint of copper and a ripple in it that caught the sunlight and turned it into spun gold. It crowned her lovely head in classic lines that no modernist can achieve and perhaps would be incapable even of admiring. She had eyes of the clear translucent blue of an aquamarine, and the delicacy of her features, and the fervent, vivid look of her, would make one wonder to see her in a crowd.
Now, as she turned back to the empty, echoing house, sorrow clothed her as in a hallowing garment, and her face wore an ethereal look; that look perhaps that her young mother had seen in her baby face, and called her “Ariel.”
She stood for a moment in the wide hall that ran from front to back of the house, with its glass doors into the garden at the back and a glimpse of fields and hills beyond; the hall where her mother’s feet had trod; where her own childish laughter had rung out; where her little grandmother had loved to sit in the deep old rocker in her rusty black silk and her fine sheer ruffles and cap, doing delicate embroidery while Ariel studied on a cushion outside the door and the kitten curled in a black and white ball at her feet. How the memories flocked!
There through the wide arch was the old parlor where she had practiced her music at the old square piano, with mother-of-pearl flowers set in its polished rosewood above the keyboard. Like ghosts the old furniture came trooping back and peopled the empty rooms. The Chippendale desk! The gate-leg table! The portrait of Grandfather over the mantel! It was as if their various spirits had stolen away from their new owners and crept back to bid her farewell.
There on the other side was her father’s library where she had spent hours poring over his big volumes, while he wrote at his desk and now and again looked up and smiled and said, “Having a good time, little girl?”
Back of the library was the dining room with windows on the garden and the sunshine flooding it all the morning. There had been blue willow plates against the landscapes on the wall, and the great old mahogany sideboard reached the full length of the space between the windows. If only she might have kept the sideboard! It was so beautiful and old and rare. It seemed so a part of her life and her family. But Ezra Brownleigh had said it would bring more money than anything else she had, and she needed the money so much! But perhaps she would someday save money enough to buy it back—when she had a home. Oh—when she had a home!
With the breath of a sob she dropped upon her knees, and a long ray of sunlight stole through the mullioned window over the front door and laid gentle fingers of gold upon her hair like a halo, as with clasped hands and closed eyes she prayed earnestly.
“Oh, dear Father in heaven, I feel so frightened, and so lonely! Please take hold of my hand and go with me!”
Then she went with swift steps over to the window seat where her grandmother’s Bible lay beside an old-fashioned traveling bag and, picking it up, opened it and tried to read through blurring tears. She had taken the Bible from her grandmother’s chest of drawers just before the man had come to take the things away. It was bulky to carry, but she felt she must have it with her. It would not seem so lonely in the great strange city to which she was going if she might have Grandmother’s Bible.
And it opened of itself to an old tried and true passage that had given comfort many times before in days of
A look came over her face like unto the look of her illustrious warrior ancestor whose painted portrait had been known to hang on the wall above the stair landing. It was as if she had just received marching orders from her captain. She lifted her firm little chin, and a light was in her eyes like one who sees a vision.
She was going forth to fight. She did not expect an easy way. But her Lord was with her, even unto the end. With determination she set her face to the going.
Quickly she ran up the stairs to glance into every room and be sure nothing had been left behind. All was clean and empty as befitted the house that was being handed over from the Custer family to a new owner. Not a bit of dust anywhere. Only a scrap of faded lilac ribbon fallen from the drawer when she opened it to take out the Bible. She picked it up quickly as something precious and hid it in her pocket. It was one of the ribbons from Grandmother’s old needle book. She must not leave it there for strangers to fling away.
She came downstairs swiftly, gave one last sorrowful glance around the empty rooms, and went out, closing and locking the door. Once more she paused with her hand still on the key and looked abroad at the day that was beginning to glow with springtime. The mockingbird was in the lilac bush now, and an ache grew in her throat as she realized that she was going from it all forever; her home, her lawn, her lilac bush, and her mockingbird, out into an unknown world. In all probability she might never hear a mockingbird sing from that lilac bush again.
Then she shut her lips tight on the sob that sprang in her throat, turned the key in the lock, and with one last glance at the distant hills just taking on their spring verdure in soft pastel tints, she picked up the old-fashioned satchel that stood ready at her feet and started down the path to the gate, every step carrying her away from her childhood, her dear old home, and all that she counted dear in the world, every step bringing the tears to her eyes and the ache into her throat.
But being a Custer she did not yield to her mood. She dashed the tears from her eyes, swallowed hard on the lump in her throat, and lifting her chin with a kind of finality, she went out the gate and down the road, walking straight as a young sapling, her little patrician head held high. The morning was early, the dew yet on the young grass by the roadside, but not even a bird should see her go drooping away from Virginia. She would go forth as one goes to battle, a shining mark for an enemy, but a valiant one.
She hastened her steps as she passed the old Breckenridge place. She had said a sad farewell to old Miss Sally, the sole remaining representative of that family, who had been dear friends with her family. She did not want to go over it again. If Miss Sally should spy her out of the window, she would be sure to stop her for another last word, and perhaps a hot buttered roll or some delicacy to take with her, and Ariel felt she could not bear it.
But Miss Sally did not see her, and she slipped by safely and reached the straggling village street without encountering any old friends.
She must stop at the real estate office and leave the key for the new owners. Then she hoped to escape to the station without more difficulty. There had been invitations to breakfast in plenty, and also to stay overnight, but Ariel had declined them all on the ground that there were things to do at the house and she would not have time in the morning to stop for a formal breakfast. She had not let anyone know that her last night was to be spent alone in the old house. They had thought that Dinah, the old faithful servant, was to be with her, or there would have been protests too strenuous to resist; but Dinah had had opportunity to ride to her new home with a farmer who was driving that way the afternoon before, and the girl had insisted upon her going. In fact, she had been glad to be alone for those last hours. Somehow they seemed too sacred for even Dinah to intrude upon. And so she had spent the night alone in the old country home, empty of all furniture save the few things she had saved for her own, which had gone down the road that very morning to be stored indefinitely at Ezra Brownleigh’s house for her.
The past week had been one long good-bye, and Ariel dreaded another word of it. Her Custer pride was worn almost threadbare. She must not let them suspect how her heart was failing her about going out into a world of uncertainty alone. Someone would try to take her in, or do for her, if anyone suspected, and that must never be. She was a Custer and she was a Christian, and she must face the world alone with God.
The minister had written to a cousin of his in the North who was librarian in a big city library, and she had promised to take Ariel in and teach her to be a librarian. The minister had felt that the many years spent in her father’s library reading to him and browsing among his fine collection of literary gems had well fitted her for such a position, and she was looking forward with a sad anticipation to the joy of handling books once more. Her father’s books had been sold three years before to provide the necessities of life for herself and her grandmother during her grandmother’s last lingering illness. Even the money from the books was every cent gone now. Ariel longed for books, and she felt that a life spent among them would not be like a life exactly among utter strangers. There were sure to be some old friends among the volumes.
Ezra Brownleigh had not yet come down to his office. It was early. He doubtless had not expected her to come so soon. So she left the key with the office boy who was shooting marbles in the path outside the step. She was glad to escape the kindly parting from the gentle old man, her father’s friend who would gladly have taken her in and made her his own child if he had had the means to provide for her. As it was he had told her that if everything did not go right she was to come right home to Virginia, and he would take care of her. Ariel never intended to burden him with any care of herself, even though things went very wrong indeed, but she thanked him and smiled into his faded eyes till he cheered up, marveling at the Custer courage, rejoicing in the valiant spirit.
Arriving at the station, Ariel had almost an hour to wait for her train. There was plenty of time to run over to Aunt Janey Whiting’s and get breakfast, or even to go as far as Martha Ann Gibbons’s little cottage, where she knew there was always delicious cornpone and plenty of fresh milk for breakfast, and where she would be more than welcome. But Ariel did not feel like eating. There seemed to be a door locked in her throat that prevented her from swallowing. It seemed to her she never would be hungry again. So after she had bought her ticket and checked her small ancient trunk, she crossed the tracks behind the station and walked away down a willow-bordered road to the old bridge where the trees hid her from the village and she could be alone and think.
The old bridge crossed a little stream that wound down from the distant mountain and was sparkling now in the sunlight as she stopped and laid her arms on the rail, looking down into the water.
The trees on either bank were softly dappled with small green leaves and bordered the bright, curving water with feathery foliage, deepening here and there into the rich dark green of the cypress and pine. Beyond was the mountain, blue and mysterious in its morning mist, with a brilliant sky above in which floated little lazy fleecy clouds. The beauty of it was like a pain in her heart as she looked upon it for the last time perhaps for years. A sudden realization came over her of how dear it all was, the sky and the trees and the water, her dear Virginia mountains, and what it would be not to see them anymore, and once more the Custer courage almost failed her, and she bowed her head on the old bridge and prayed: “Dear heavenly Father, don’t let me break down. Help me to be brave. I know You’re going with me.”
But by and by the peace of it all sank into her heart, and she was able to look upon the familiar scene and drink it into her memory for a future time of need.
The distant whistle of the southbound train warned her at last that her time of waiting was almost over, and she hurried down the road and was ready to cross the tracks as soon as t
But she was not let to leave her hometown absolutely uncheered. Miss Sallie Gibbons was standing on the platform anxiously looking up the road for her as she crossed the tracks, with a little box of hot beaten biscuits, cold chicken, and pound cake for her lunch. She had sat up half the night preparing it. Ezra Brownleigh, too, hobbled down five minutes before the northbound train to wish her Godspeed. Three minutes later a noisy troop of little girls and one boy to whom she had taught music came plunging down the street, their arms full of big bunches of blue violets and golden buttercups, which they pressed upon her. The boy had a big red apple and a very small toad in a matchbox, which he offered her for company on the way. She made him eat the apple himself and told him to take care of the toad for her till she returned. Then the train came whistling down the track, the girls smothered her with moist kisses, Miss Sallie Gibbons folded her in her arms and wept in her neck, and Ezra Brownleigh tried to smile with the tears rolling down his cheeks. She was gone, out into the great wide world of the North! Out to earn her living and win her way. Out toward the end somewhere, which is Eternity!
Judson Granniss had always been a lonely boy.
From his birth his mother had tried to dominate him, as she had always dominated his father. She spent her time in shooing him away from almost everything he wanted to do or think or be. And much of the time she succeeded, because he had inherited from his father a gentle, kindly, unselfish nature. But because he was also her child and had as strong a will as hers, there were times when he became like adamant, and then there was war between them.
Strangely enough, at such times Judson reminded her of her dead husband, whose gentle, kindly nature had yielded to her will except on rare occasions when the matter at issue concerned someone else, and then he too became adamant.
Judson’s father was a dreamer, by nature an inventor, who had by stern integrity and patient perseverance added to a small inheritance until in the small country town where they lived when Judson was a child, he had become a power. Then one day he loaned a large sum of money to an old schoolmate, Jake Dillon by name, who came to him with a tale of a fortune in jeopardy and a motherless child. For the sake of the motherless child, Joe Granniss loaned him enough money to set him upon his feet. Jake Dillon became a rich man, and Joe Granniss died a very poor one, because he had trusted his old friend and had loaned the money without security. His wife, Harriet, never gave him another hour’s peace while he lived after she learned of the transaction, and it is to be supposed that she also spent time on Jake Dillon—and he certainly deserved anything he got—for Harriet was not the woman to leave her duty toward her fellow man’s sins undone.
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