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In the meanwhile her school-mates and friends had pretty much all
married, or been given in marriage. She was a stranger to the new set of
young people which had come on the stage since her day, while her former
companions lived in a world of new interests, with which she had nothing
in common. Society, in reorganizing itself, had left her on the outside.
The present had moved on, leaving her behind with the past. She asked
nothing better. If she was nothing to the present, the present was still
less to her. As to society, her sensitiveness to the unpleasant
impression made by her personal appearance rendered social gatherings
distasteful to her, and she wore a heavy veil when she went to church.
She was an only child. Her mother had long been dead, and when about this
time her father died she was left without near kin. With no ties of
contemporary interest to hold her to the present she fell more and more
under the influence of the habit of retrospection.
The only brightness of colour which life could ever have for her lay
behind in the girlhood which had ended but yesterday, and was yet so
completely ended. She found her only happiness in the recollections of
that period which she retained. These were the only goods she prized, and
it was the grief of her life that, while she had strong boxes for her
money, and locks and keys for her silver and her linen, there was no
device whereby she could protect her store of memories from the slow
wasting of forgetfulness.
She lived with a servant quite alone in the old Ludington homestead,
which it was her absorbing care to keep in precisely the same condition,
even to the arrangement of the furniture, in which it had always been.
If she could have insured the same permanence in the village of Hilton,
outside the homestead enclosure, she would have been spared the cause of
her keenest unhappiness. For the hand of change was making havoc with the
village: the railroad had come, shops had been built, and stores and new
houses were going up on every side, and the beautiful hamlet, with its
score or two of old-fashioned dwellings, which had been the scene of her
girlhood, was in a fair way to be transformed into a vile manufacturing
Miss Ludington, to whom every stick and stone of the place was dear,
could not walk abroad without missing some ancient landmark removed since
she had passed that way before, perhaps a tree felled, some meadow, that
had been a playground of her childhood, dug up for building-lots, or a
row of brick tenements going up on the site of a sacred grove.
Her neighbours generally had succumbed to the rage for improvement, as
they called it. There was a general remodelling and modernizing of
houses, and, where nothing more expensive could be afforded, the
paint-brush wrought its cheap metamorphosis. "You wouldn't know Hilton
was the same place," was the complacent verdict of her neighbours, to
which Miss Ludington sorrowfully assented.
It would be hard to describe her impotent wrath, her sense of outrage and
irreparable loss, as one by one these changes effaced some souvenir of
her early life. The past was once dead already; they were killing it a
second time. Her feelings at length became so intolerable that she kept
her house, pretty much ceasing to walk abroad.
At this period, when she was between thirty and thirty-five years old, a
distant relative left her a large fortune. She had been well-to-do
before, but now she was very rich. As her expenses had never exceeded a
few hundred dollars a year, which had procured her everything she needed,
it would be hard to imagine a person with less apparent use for a great
deal of money. And yet no young rake, in the heyday of youth and the riot
of hot blood, could have been more overjoyed at the falling to him of a
fortune than was this sad-faced old maid. She became smiling and
animated. She no longer kept at home, but walked abroad. Her step was
quick and strong; she looked on at the tree-choppers, the builders, and
the painters, at their nefarious work, no more in helpless grief and
indignation, but with an unmistakable expression of triumph.
Presently surveyors appeared in the village, taking exact and careful
measurements of the single broad and grassy street which formed the older
part of it. Miss Ludington was closeted with a builder, and engrossed
with estimates. The next year she left Hilton to the mercy of the
vandals, and never returned.
But it was to another Hilton that she went.
The fortune she had inherited had enabled her to carry out a design which
had been a day-dream with her ever since the transformation of the
village had begun. Among the pieces of property left her was a large farm
on Long Island several miles out of the city of Brooklyn. Here she had
rebuilt the Hilton of her girlhood, in facsimile, with every change
restored, every landmark replaced. In the midst of this silent village
she had built for her residence an exact duplicate of the Ludington
homestead, situated in respect to the rest of the village precisely as
the original was situated in the real Hilton.
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