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|Whom Should She Trust?
The room was dim and hushed. A young girl was kneeling beside the bed, deaf to any sound save the slow breathing coming from the form lying there. A sigh brought the girl’s head up, and her eyes gazed intently at the pallid face on the pillow.
“Papa,” she whispered, “speak to me once more. Tell me what to do, whom to trust. Oh, Papa--” she broke off abruptly as her father’s eyes opened slowly.
“Hannah?” The name was scarcely audible even in that still room.
“I am here, Papa. I am holding your hand.”
“Hannah,” he said again, “be careful whom you trust. Oh, be careful . . . They want the money . . . most of them. . . . There is a right one. You must not trust the others.” His eyes closed.
“How do I know whom to trust, Papa? How can I be sure he too doesn’t want just the money? Papa!”
The weary eyes fluttered once more. The girl bent tenderly over him.
“I . . . am . . . going . . . home now. Hannah, . . . come home . . . too . . .. Pray, Hannah.”
Hannah bowed her head, but no words could she utter though she tried.
“Father . . . keep . . . my little girl . . . safe.” A tired sigh followed the low whispered prayer, and all was still.
The doctor laid quiet fingers on the limp wrist and then glanced at the still form of the girl beside the bed.
“He is gone.” The words were spoken softly yet they reached the ears of the girl.
Hannah raised her head, looked long at the face on the pillow, then rose and left the room.
Yes, her father was dead. She was alone in the world. Alone. The word brought a shiver. Her whole life had changed so quickly. She had been sheltered and cared for; now so suddenly she must do for herself. Could she manage the large estate left her as well as the immense fortune which now belonged solely to her? What had her father meant when he told her they wanted the money? Who wanted the money? And who didn’t?
Hannah never fully remembered the days and even weeks that immediately followed her much loved father’s death. She was conscious of only one thing; she was alone.
One night, several months later, Hannah lay in her bed,staring out the nearby window at a brilliantly full moon.
“Oh, Papa, if you were only here to advise me! I think my heart will break without you! Oh, why am I so alone? Who is it that truly wants me and not my money? Is it Mr. Everson or Mr. Adkins? Or someone else? Mr. Everson asked me to be his wife this evening, and Mr. Adkins asked the same thing only two days before? If only I knew whom to trust!” Hannah turned restlessly on her pillow. “And Mr. Sawyer wants to buy that piece of land. How do I know the price he offered is fair?” For some time her thoughts were in turmoil. Unable to decide what to do and whom to trust, Miss Hannah made a decision to trust no one. She would live her life out alone if she had to. She had no real friends and no relatives near. Surely she could just stay quietly in her own home with her servants. “Perhaps someday,” she thought just before falling asleep, “I will find out who I can trust. Surely someone is trustworthy.”
And so, the days and weeks passed, turning into months and then into years. Hannah quietly dropped out of all social life, which wasn’t difficult for she had felt no interest in it since her father had died. The invitations for dinners gradually grew fewer and fewer and at last ceased all together. Former acquaintances now acknowledged her rare appearances in public places with a bow or a nod.
It had been three years since her father’s death. They had been three of the loneliest years of Hannah’s life. There had been times when her resolve to trust no one had nearly failed, only to be strengthened by stories of dishonor and treachery. She vowed she would remain the sole mistress of The Glen. “Unless,” she always added to herself, “I can find someone that I know I can trust.” The southern mansion was as beautiful as ever it was in the days gone by, yet the the former gaiety was gone. No longer were large parties held on the grounds in the warmer months nor in the large parlor and dining room in the winter. There was no one to enjoy the extensive grounds and spacious rooms except Miss Hannah and the servants.
“Miss Hannah, I’s sorry to bother you, but dere’s a gintleman dat insists on seein’ you.”
Miss Hannah looked up, “Oh, Candace, why do people persist in intruding where they aren’t wanted? Do tell him I am busy, otherwise engaged, anything.”
“So I did Miss, but he jest walked in an’ took a seat. Said he’d wait a spell. I ain’t sure what to do.”
The sunlight streamed in the large open windows upon the beautifully decorated library, the rows and rows of beautifully bound books and the lovely form seated at a desk. A gentle spring breeze wafted the delicate fragrance of the garden flowers into the room and stirred the dress and hair of Miss Hannah.
“Do, Candace, try once more to show him out, for I do not wish to see him.”
“I’ll try, Miss Hannah,” and Candace departed with a shake of her head.
A brief time elapsed ere the servant reappeared. “Tain’t no use, Miss Hannah. De gintleman say he won’t leave da place till he sees you if he has ta wait till tomorrow or de day after dat or de day after dat. An’ he didn’t give me no card an’ won’t tell me no name. I does like his looks though. I tink he is an honest man.”
“He is a very rude man if you ask me. No name, no card, and insists on seeing me when I have declined to see him. And yet, oh Candace, how can I refuse? My father would be ashamed if I were to act as my feelings now tell me to.”
Candace waited in respectful silence. She knew it was best to let her mistress speak her mind in peace.
“Very well, . . . I will see him. Show him in here, Candace.”
Miss Hannah once again turned wearily to her desk and picked up her pen, but she did not write. In spite of herself she felt a slight curiosity towards this strange gentleman who wouldn’t take no for an answer. Who was he, and what did he want? She had no desire to see him, she told herself, and yet at the sound of approaching footsteps she rose in dignified silence and turned towards the door, her father’s words repeating in her mind,
“Be careful whom you trust. Be careful whom you trust. . . .”
As the door was opened, the stranger paused on the threshold; a look of admiration plainly visible on his face at sight of the fair lady before him. After a low bow he entered. Miss Hannah gave a slight nod of acknowledgment and turned to Candace.
“Thank you, Candace. You may leave. I will ring for you when I want you again.”
Candace nodded and withdrew, leaving her mistress alone with the strange gentleman.
For a full minute they both stood in complete silence. Miss Hannah waiting for the gentleman to make his errand known and leave her once more in peace. The stranger, tall and broad shouldered, with an easy air about him, gazed in unconcealed admiration at his hostess.
Miss Hannah started.
“Oh, Hannah, it has been so long, and yet you haven’t changed. You are as beautiful as ever.” The gallant words were uttered as the stranger came forward with both hands outstretched and a smile on his face.
Miss Hannah took a step backward and reached for the bell while keeping an eye on her unwanted visitor.
The stranger saw his mistake and paused. “Hannah, don’t ring! You don’t recognize me. I should have known you wouldn’t. Here,” and he pulled off his waistcoat and pushed his left sleeve up revealing a jagged scar. “Does that tell you the truth?”
Miss Hannah stared at the scar and then into the blue eyes which looked so steadily and honestly back at her. It had to be . . . but how could she be sure?
The stranger seeing her distrust and hesitation, forever dispelled it by pulling out a curiously shaped watch guard and repeating as though from memory,
“This is a present from me to you. Whenever you see it, remember, be true.”
“John! It can’t be... But it has been five years! Why didn’t... How came you to... Where... when? Oh, John! Let me cry, it’s been so long!” Her head rested on his shirt front while the tears fell.
“My dear little Hannah. It is a long time, but the story is soon told.” John tightened his arms around her. “Can’t you even greet me with a smile? I promise I won’t run away this time.”
The merry words of long ago brought Hannah’s head up with a smile “as bright as the sun,” John thought as he kissed the fair girl in his arms.
“Oh, John! Come, tell me everything. I am longing to know.”
“Can’t we walk out in the garden? I feel so confined here.”
Hannah’s rippling laughter rang out as it had not done for so long. “You always felt that way here in this room while I loved it. Yes, of course we can go out. Let me just ring for Candace to bring me my shawl.”
“Stay,” John’s hand caught hers back from the bell. “Never mind the shawl. If you must have something, use this,” and with a quick move his waistcoat was around her shoulders. “I hate wearing one of those now as much as I ever did.”
“John, you are impossible!” and slipping her arm through his, she led the way out into the sunshine.
Candace turned from the doorway. “I jest knowd it. Dat’s her lubber sure ‘nough. I saw dat gintleman, an’ I says to my self, “Candace dat man has gotta be Miss Hannah’s lubber.” An’ now I knows I’m right.”
“Lubber? Miss Hannah’s? Candace, I thought yo had more sense den dat!”
Candace turned, hands on her hips, “Now Zeke Andrews, don’t you go an’ try ta tell me dat de man walkin’ right now in de garden with Miss Hannah ain’t her lubber. I knows better.”
Zeke looked out the door a moment. “Maybe its a cousin. I heard her say there’s a heap of dem, dough dey don’t come ‘round here no more.”
“An’ her wearin’ his coat! Now yo talkin’ like a man wit no sense in his head. Sure Miss Hannah got a heap o’ cousins, an’ I knowd dat. I’s seen dem all at de burin’ o’ Massa, an’ I’s sayin’ dat aint one.”
“Now tell me everything, John, please.” Miss Hannah looked as eager as a child as she gazed up into the face which was watching hers with such interest.
“It won’t take long. I only received your letter about Uncle’s death two months ago and have been trying to reach here ever since.”
“Two months ago! It has been three years since he--”
John drew her into a sunny walkway. “I know. It may seem hard to believe, but out west it is harder to receive mail. I do know that the letter had been sitting in a post office for eight months before I came by and claimed it. I had been traveling quite a bit. Even if I had left a forwarding address as they do here in the east, the letter would no sooner have started on its way, than I would have been on the move elsewhere.”
He was expecting the next question.
“Why didn’t you write and explain your long silence?”
“I did, many times, but no answer came back.”
Silence was the only reply. Miss Hannah was thinking of the order she had given to her servants after her father’s death and her decision to trust no one. “I want to see no mail or anything of the sort from strangers. I am alone and very wealthy. I may perchance fall prey to some scheming, dishonest man because he pretends to have love and sympathy for me while in reality he wishes for nothing but my money.” Could John’s letters be mixed in with those? Could Candace have inadvertently placed those letters with the others? It was possible. After all, she had never met John. He had already gone west when she came to The Glen. “I ... I ... I didn’t know you had written. I’m sorry.”
“Never mind. I’m here now, and I’m staying for a while. By the way, I heard in town that Miss Hannah is very close and doesn’t like company. I hope she can reconcile herself to the fact that I will stay here and no where else.” John looked down at the blushing cheeks of his cousin.
“As if I’d really let you stay anywhere else,” was the reply which entirely satisfied him.
“Say, I remember that tree!” A turn in the walk brought them again in sight of the house. The large old tree stood near by; its gnarled branches stretching toward the sun and out in an arching canopy of shade when the leaves grew full.
“You ought to remember it. You nearly killed yourself falling out of it one day,” and Hannah shook her head at the remembrance.
“You mustn’t be too hard on a fellow, Hannah. I was laid up for weeks after that fall.”
“Don’t I know.”
The lamps were lighted, not in the library where Miss Hannah was want to spend her evenings, but in the parlor. John was with her and quite dignified and proper. For nearly three long years Miss Hannah had not enjoyed such an evening. She listened with interest as John told of his adventures out west in California. When the old clock chimed twelve o’clock, she started.
“John! Where has the time gone? I had no idea it was so late. You must be tired, and here I have kept you awake and talking until this late hour. Zeke,” she ordered, as that individual entered in answer to her summons, “show Mr. John to his rooms, please.”
John kissed her hand and bade her good night with a low and graceful bow.
“He may have spent the last five years out west, but he hasn’t lost all the charm of his early training,” Hannah thought as she issued orders for the morning before retiring herself.
Several days following the arrival of John, passed before Hannah gathered enough courage to tell him her troubles. Several times John had asked questions about her seclusion, but each time she had skillfully turned the conversation, leaving the questions unanswered.
The air was warm and pleasant. John and Hannah were outside together in the garden. The white pillars of the house shone in the sunshine, and the air was heavy with the perfume of hundreds of flowers, vibrant with life and beauty. “John,” Hannah interrupted his tale of life out west. “John, . . . I . . . I need help.”
“I’ll do all I can.”
“I don’t know if they want my money because I don’t know whom to trust. Can’t you tell me?”
“I don’t know if I can or not. Suppose you start at the beginning. Why can’t you trust someone, and who is that someone?”
Beginning with her father’s death, Hannah poured out the whole story. “And so I just stayed at home and wouldn’t trust anyone because I was so afraid.”
John remained silent for some minutes after his cousin had ceased talking. “Hannah,” he said at last, “there is Someone who will never be dishonest with you if you will only trust Him.”
“Any one, John, if I can only know he is trustworthy.”
“The Lord Jesus Christ is the one I am talking about, Hannah. He is always faithful and will be a constant companion, friend and guide if you will let Him. I could never have survived some of the hardships out west if He hadn’t been with me.”
Hannah searched her cousin’s face. Was it possible to have the same peace that she saw on his face and had seen there since he had first made his appearance? She had seen that look also on her beloved father’s face just before he died. Could Jesus Christ help her? Would He? She could almost hear her father’s last words, “Father, keep my little girl safe.”
The silence grew so long that John turned to look at her.
“I do want to know Him, John. Will you show me how?”
The quietly spoken words sent a thrill through John’s very being. He would be delighted.
Thus it was that Miss Hannah Ward, the beautiful, young, and much admired heiress, at last found the only One whom she could perfectly trust, knowing that He would never be false to her.
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