Miss Ludington's Sister by Edward Bellamy


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Page 1

The Ludingtons were one of the old families of Hilton, a little farming
village among the hills of Massachusetts. They were not rich, but were
well-to-do, lived in the largest house in the place, and were regarded
somewhat as local magnates. Miss Ludington's childhood had been an
exceptionally happy one, and as a girl she had been the belle of the
village. Her beauty, together, with her social position and amiability of
disposition, made her the idol of the young men, recognised leader of the
girls, and the animating and central figure in the social life of the
place.

She was about twenty years old, at the height of her beauty and in the
full tide of youthful enjoyment, when she fell ill of a dreadful disease,
and for a long time lay between life and death. Or, to state the ease
more accurately, the girl did die--it was a sad and faded woman who rose
from that bed of sickness.

The ravages of disease had not left a vestige of her beauty--it was
hopelessly gone. The luxuriant, shining hair had fallen out and been
replaced by a scanty growth of washed-out hue; the lips, but yesterday so
full, and red, and tempting, were thin, and drawn, and colourless, and
the rose-leaf complexion had given place to an aspect so cruelly pitted,
seamed, and scarred that even friends did not recognize her.

The fading of youth is always a melancholy experience with women; but in
most cases the process is so gradual as to temper the poignancy of
regret, and perhaps often to prevent its being experienced at all except
as a vague sentiment.

But in Miss Ludington's case the transition had been piteously sharp and
abrupt.

With others, ere youth is fully past its charms are well-nigh forgotten
in the engrossments of later years; but with her there had been nothing
to temper the bitterness of her loss.

During the long period of invalidism which followed her sickness her only
solace was a miniature of herself, at the age of seventeen, painted on
ivory, the daguerrotype process not having come into use at this time,
which was toward the close of the third decade of the present century.

Over this picture she brooded hours together when no one was near,
studying the bonny, gladsome face through blinding tears, and sometimes
murmuring incoherent words of tenderness.

Her young friends occasionally came to sit with her, by way of enlivening
the weary hours of an invalid's day. At such times she would listen with
patient indifference while they sought to interest her with current local
gossip, and as soon as possible would turn the conversation back to the
old happy days before her sickness. On this topic she was never weary of
talking, but it was impossible to induce her to take any interest in the
present.

She had caused a locket to be made, to contain the ivory miniature of
herself as a girl, and always wore it on her bosom.

In no way could her visitors give her more pleasure than by asking to see
this picture, and expressing their admiration of it. Then her poor,
disfigured face would look actually happy, and she would exclaim, "Was
she not beautiful?" "I do not think it flattered her, do you?" and with
other similar expressions indicate her sympathy with the admiration
expressed. The absence of anything like self-consciousness in the delight
she took in these tributes to the charms of her girlish self was pathetic
in its completeness. It was indeed not as herself, but as another, that
she thought of this fair girl, who had vanished from the earth, leaving a
picture as her sole memento. How, indeed, could it be otherwise when she
looked from the picture to the looking-glass, and contrasted the images?
She mourned for her girlish self, which had been so cruelly effaced from
the world of life, as for a person, near and precious to her beyond the
power of words to express, who had died.

From the time that she had first risen from the sick-bed, where she had
suffered so sad a transformation, nothing could induce her to put on the
brightly coloured gowns, beribboned, and ruffled, and gaily trimmed,
which she had worn as a girl; and as soon as she was able she carefully
folded and put them away in lavender, like relics of the dead. For
herself, she dressed henceforth in drab or black.

For three or four years she remained more or less an invalid. At the end
of that time she regained a fair measure of health, although she seemed
not likely ever to be strong.

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