Beulah (Chapter 1, page 1 of 7)

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Chapter 1

A January sun had passed the zenith, and the slanting rays flamed
over the window panes of a large brick building, bearing on its
front in golden letters the inscription "Orphan Asylum." The
structure was commodious, and surrounded by wide galleries, while
the situation offered a silent tribute to the discretion and good
sense of the board of managers who selected the suburbs instead of
the more densely populated portion of the city. The whitewashed
palings inclosed, as a front yard or lawn, rather more than an acre
of ground, sown in grass and studded with trees, among which the
shelled walks meandered gracefully. A long avenue of elms and
poplars extended from the gate to the principal entrance, and
imparted to the Asylum an imposing and venerable aspect.

There was very little shrubbery, but here and there orange boughs bent beneath
their load of golden fruitage, while the glossy foliage, stirred by
the wind, trembled and glistened in the sunshine. Beyond the
inclosure stretched the common, dotted with occasional clumps of
pine and leafless oaks, through which glimpses of the city might be
had. Building and grounds wore a quiet, peaceful, inviting look,
singularly appropriate for the purpose designated by the inscription
"Orphan Asylum," a haven for the desolate and miserable. The front
door was closed, but upon the broad granite steps, where the
sunlight lay warm and tempting, sat a trio of the inmates. In the
foreground was a slight fairy form, "a wee winsome thing," with
coral lips, and large, soft blue eyes, set in a frame of short,
clustering golden curls. She looked about six years old, and was
clad, like her companions, in canary-colored flannel dress and blue-
check apron.

Lillian was the pet of the asylum, and now her rosy
cheek rested upon her tiny white palm, as though she wearied of the
picture-book which lay at her feet. The figure beside her was one
whose marvelous beauty riveted the gaze of all who chanced to see
her. The child could have been but a few months older than Lillian,
yet the brilliant black eyes, the peculiar curve of the dimpled
mouth, and long, dark ringlets, gave to the oval face a maturer and
more piquant loveliness. The cast of Claudia's countenance bespoke
her foreign parentage, and told of the warm, fierce Italian blood
that glowed in her cheeks. There was fascinating grace in every
movement, even in the easy indolence of her position, as she bent on
one knee to curl Lillian's locks over her finger. On the upper step,
in the rear of these two, sat a girl whose age could not have been
very accurately guessed from her countenance, and whose features
contrasted strangely with those of her companions.

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