Part 2 out of 5
after miles of ignorant wonder, we rode out of it into greenness again,
and were told that we had crossed what the Portuguese call a _Misterio_
or Mystery,--the track of the last eruption. The moss was the first
primeval coating of vegetation just clothing those lava-rocks again.
But the time was coming when we must bid good-bye to picturesque
Fayal. We had been there from November to May; it had been a winter of
incessant rains, and the first necessary of life had come to be a change
of umbrellas; it had been colder than usual, making it a comfort to look
at our stove, though we never lighted it; but our invalids had gained
by even this degree of mildness, by the wholesome salt dampness, by
the comforts of our hotel with its respectable Portuguese landlord and
English landlady, and by the great kindness shown us by all others. At
last we had begun to feel that we had squeezed the orange of the Azores
a little dry, and we were ready to go. And when, after three weeks of
rough sailing in the good bark Azor, we saw Cape Ann again, although it
looked somewhat flat and prosaic after the headlands of Fayal, yet we
knew that behind those low shores lay all that our hearts held dearest,
and all the noblest hopes of the family of man.
* * * * *
MIDSUMMER AND MAY.
Very probably you never saw such a superb creature,--if that word,
creature, does not endow her with too much life: a Semiramis, without
the profligacy,--an Isis, without the worship,--a Sphinx, yes, a Sphinx,
with her desert, who long ago despaired of having one come to read her
riddle, strong, calm, patient perhaps. In this respect she seemed to own
no redundant life, just enough to eke along existence,--not living, but
I say, all this would have been one's impression; and one's impression
would have been incorrect.
I really cannot state her age; and having attained to years of
discretion, it is not of such consequence as it is often supposed to be,
whether one be twenty or sixty. You would have been confident, that,
living to count her hundreds, she would only have bloomed with more
immortal freshness; but such a thought would not have occurred to you
at all, if you had not already felt that she was no longer young,--she
possessed so perfectly that certain self-reliance, self-understanding,
_aplomb_, into which little folk crystallize at an early age, but which
is not to be found with those whose identities are cast in a larger
mould, until they have passed through periods of fuller experience.
That Mrs. Laudersdale was the technical magnificent woman, I need
not reiterate. I wish I knew some name gorgeous enough in sound and
association for that given her at christening; but I don't. It is my
opinion that she was born Mrs. Laudersdale, that her coral-and-bell was
marked Mrs. Laudersdale, and that her name stands golden-lettered on the
recording angel's leaf simply as Mrs. Laudersdale. It is naturally to be
inferred, then, that there was a Mr. Laudersdale. There was. But not by
any means a person of consequence, you assume? Why, yes, of some,--to
one individual at least Mrs. Laudersdale was so weak as to regard him
with complacency; she loved--adored her husband. Let me have the
justice to say that no one suspected her of it. Of course, then, Mr.
Roger Raleigh had no business to fall in love with her.
Well,--but he did.
At the time when Mrs. Laudersdale had become somewhat more than a
reigning beauty, and held her sceptre with such apparent indifference
that she seemed about abandoning it forever, she no longer dazzled with
unventured combinations of colors and materials in dress. She wore
most frequently, at this epoch, black velvet that suppled about her
well-asserted contours; and the very trail of her skirt was unlike
another woman's, for it coiled and bristled after her with a life and
motion of its own, like a serpent. Her hair, of too dead a black for
gloss or glister, was always adorned with a nasturtium-vine, whose vivid
flames seemed like some personal emanation, and whose odor, acrid and
single, dispersed a character about her; and the only ornaments she
condescended to assume were of Etruscan gold, severely simple in design,
elaborately intricate in workmanship. It is evident she was a poet in
costume, and had at last _en regle_ acquired a manner. But thirteen
years ago she apparelled herself otherwise, and thirteen years ago it
was that Mr. Roger Raleigh fell in love with her. This is how it was.
Among the many lakes in New Hampshire, there is one of extreme
beauty,--a broad, shadowy water, some nine miles in length, with steep,
thickly wooded banks, and here and there, as if moored on its calm
surface, an island fit for the Bower of Bliss. At one spot along its
shore was, and still is, an old country-house, formerly used as a hotel,
but whose customers, always pleasure-seekers from the neighboring towns,
had been drawn away by the erection of a more modern and satisfactory
place of entertainment at the other extremity of the lake, and it had
now been for many years closed. There were no dwellings of any kind in
its vicinity, so that it reigned over a solitude of a half-dozen miles
in every direction. Once in a while the gay visitors in the more
prosperous regions stretched their sails and skimmed along till they saw
its white porticos and piazzas gleaming faintly up among the trees; once
in a while a belated traveller tied his horse at the gate, and sought
admittance in vain, at the empty house, of the shadows who may have kept
it. It was not pleasant to see so goodly a mansion falling to ruin for
want of fit occupancy, truly; and just as the walls had grown gray with
rain and time, the chimneys choked and the casements shrunken, a merry
company of friends and families, from another portion of the country,
consolidated themselves into a society for the pursuit of happiness,
rented the old place, put in carpenters and masons and glaziers, and,
when the last tenants vacated the premises, took possession in state
themselves. Care and responsibility were not theirs; the matron and her
servants alone received such guests; the long summer-days were to come
and go with them as joyously as with Bacchus and his crew.
Behold the party domesticated a fortnight at the Bawn, as it was
afterward dubbed. Mr. Laudersdale had returned to New York that morning,
and his wife had not been met since. Now, at about five o'clock, her
white robe floated past the door, and she was seen moving up and down
the long piazza and humming a faint little tune to herself. Just then
a flock of young women, married and single, fluttered through door and
windows to join her; and just then Mrs. Laudersdale stepped down from
the end of the piazza and floated up the garden-path and into the woods
that skirted the lake-shore and stretched far back and away. Thus
abandoned, the others turned their attention to the expanse before and
below them; and one or two made their way down to the brink, unhooked
a boat, ventured in, and, lifting the single pair of oars, were soon
laboring gayly out and creating havoc on the placid waters.
As Mrs. Laudersdale continued to walk, the path which she followed
slowly descended to the pebbly rim, rich in open spaces, slopes of
verdure just gilding in the declining sun, and coverts of cool, deep
shadow. As she advanced leisurely, involved in pleasant fancy, something
caught her eye, an unusual object, certainly, lying in a duskier recess;
she drew nearer and hung a moment above it. Some fallen statue among
rank Roman growth, some marble semblance of a young god, overlaced with
a vine and plunged in tall ferns and beaded grasses? And she, bending
there,--was it Diana and Endymion over again, Psyche and Eros? Ah,
no!--simply Mrs. Laudersdale and Roger Raleigh. Only while one might
have counted sixty did she linger to take the real beauty of the scene:
the youth, adopted, as it were, to Nature's heart by the clustering
growth that sprang up rebounding under the careless weight that crushed
it; an attitude of complete and unconscious grace,--one arm thrown out
beneath the head, the other listlessly fallen down his side, while the
hand still detained the straw hat; the profile, by no means classic, but
in strong relief, the dark hair blowing in the gentle wind, the flush
of sleep that went and came almost perceptibly with the breath, and the
sunbeam that slanting round suddenly suffused the whole. "Pretty boy!"
thought Mrs. Laudersdale; "beautiful picture!" and she flitted on. But
Roger Raleigh was not a boy, although sleep, that gives back to all
stray glimpses of their primal nature, endowed him peculiarly with a
look of childlike innocence unknown to his waking hours.
Startled, perhaps, by the intruding step, for it was no light one, a
squirrel leaped from the bough to the grass, and, leaping, woke the
sleeper. He himself, now unperceived, saw a vision in return,--this
woman, young and rare, this queenly, perfect thing, floating on and
vanishing among the trees. Whence had she come, and who was she? And
hereupon he remembered the old Bawn and its occupants. Had she seen him?
Unlikely; but yet, unimportant as it was, it remained an interesting and
open question in his mind. Bringing down the hair so ruffled in the idle
breeze, he crowded his hat over it with a determined air, half ran, half
tumbled, down the bank, sprang into his boat, and, shaking out a sail,
went flirting over the lake as fast as the wind could carry him. Leaving
a long, straight, shining wake behind him, Mr. Roger Raleigh skimmed
along the skin of ripples, and, in order to avoid a sound of shrill
voices, skirted the angle of an island, and found himself deceived by
the echo and in the midst of them.
Mrs. McLean, Miss Helen Heath, and Miss Mary Purcell, who had embarked
with a single pair of oars, were now shipwrecked on the waters wide, as
Helen said; for one of their means of progress, she declared, had been
snatched by the roaring waves and was floating in the trough of the sea,
just beyond their reach. None of the number being acquainted with the
process of sculling, they considered it imperative to secure the truant
tool, unless they wished to perish floating about unseen; and having
weighed the expediency of rigging Helen into a jury-mast, they were now
using their endeavors to regain the oar,--Mary Purcell whirling them
about like a maelstroem with the remaining one, and Mrs. McLean with her
two hands grasping Helen's garments, while the latter half stood in the
boat and half lay recumbent on the lake, tipping, slipping, dipping,
till her head resembled a mermaid's; while they all three filled the air
with more exclaim, shrieking, and laughter than could have been effected
by a large-lunged mob.
"Bedlam let loose," thought the intruder, "or all the Naiads up for a
frolic?" And as he shot by, a hush fell upon the noisy group,--Helen
pausing and erecting herself from her ablutions, Mary's frantic efforts
sending them as a broadside upon the Arrow and nearly capsizing it, and
Mrs. McLean, ceasing merriment, staring from both her eyes, and saying
nothing. Mr. Raleigh seized the oar in passing, and directly afterward
had placed it in Helen's hands. Receiving it with a profusion of thanks,
she seated herself and bent to its use. But, looking back in a few
seconds, Mr. Raleigh observed that the exhausted rowers had made
scarcely a yard's distance. He had no inclination for gallant _devoir_,
his eyes and thoughts were full of his late vision in the woods, he
wished to reach home and dream; but in a moment he was again beside
them, had taken their painter with a bow and an easy sentence, but
neither with _empressement_ nor heightened color, and, changing his
course, was lending them a portion of the Arrow's swiftness in flight
towards the Bawn. It seemed as if the old place sent its ghosts out to
him this afternoon. Bringing them close upon the flat landing-rock, and
hooking the painter therein, he sheered off, lifting his hat, and was
"Roger! Roger Raleigh!" cried Mrs. McLean, from the shore, "come back!"
Obeying her with an air of puzzled surprise, the person so
unceremoniously addressed was immediately beside her again.
"A cool proceeding, Sir!" said she, extending both her hands. "How long
would you know your Cousin Kate to be here, and refuse to spare her an
"Upon my honor," said her cousin, bending very low over the hands, "I
but this moment learn her presence in my neighborhood."
"Ah, Sir! and what becomes of my note sealed with sky-blue wax and
despatched to you ten days ago?"
"It is true such a note lies on my table at this moment, and it is still
sealed with sky-blue wax."
"And still unread?"
"You will not force me to confess such delinquency?"
"And still unread?"
"Ten thousand pardons! Shall I go home and read it?" And herewith the
saucy indifference of his face became evident, as he raised it.
"No. But is that the way to serve a lady's communications? Fie, for a
gallant! I must take you in hand. These are your New Hampshire customs?"
"'O Kate, nice customs curtsy to nice
"So I've heard, when curtsying was in fashion; but that is out of date,
together with a good many other nice things,--caring for one's friends,
for instance. Why don't you ask how all your uncles and aunts are, Sir?"
"How are all my uncles and aunts, Miss?"
"Oh, don't you know? I thought you didn't. There's another billet,
inclosing a bit of pasteboard, lying on your table now unopened too,
I'll warrant. Don't you read any of your letters?"
"Alphabetical or epistolary?"
"Answer properly, yes or no."
"I know no one that has authority to write to me, as half a reason."
"Thank you, for one, Sir. And what becomes of your Uncle Reuben?"
"Not included in the category."
"Then you're not aware that I've changed my estate? You don't know my
name now, do you?
"'Bonny Kate, and sometimes Kate the curst,
But Kate, the prettiest Kate in Christendom'"
"Nonsense! What an exasperating boy! Just the same as ever! Well, it
explains itself. Here comes a recent property unto me appertaining.
McLean! My husband, Mr. John McLean,--my cousin, Mr. Roger Raleigh."
The new-comer was one of those "sterling men" always to be relied on,
generally to be respected, and safely and appropriately leading society
and subscription-lists. He was not very imaginative, and he understood
at a glance as much of the other as he ever would understand. And the
other, feeling instantly that only coin of the king's stamp would pass
current here, turned his own counter royal side up, and met his host
with genuine cordiality. Shortly afterward, Mrs. McLean withdrew for
an improvement in her toilet, and soon returning, found them comparing
notes as to the condition of the country, tender bonds of the Union, and
relative merits of rival candidates, for all which neither of them cared
"How do you find me, Sir?" she asked of her cousin.
"Radiant, rosy, and rarely arrayed."
"I see that your affections are to be won, and I proceed accordingly,
by making myself charming, in the first place. And now, will you be
cheered, but not inebriated, here under the trees, in company with
dainty cheese-cakes compounded by these hands, and jelly of Helen
Heath's moulding, and automatic trifles that caught an ordaining
glimpse of Mrs. Laudersdale's eye and rushed madly together to become
"With a method in their madness, I hope."
"Yes, all the almonds not on one side."
"In company with cheese-cakes, jelly, and pasty, simply,--I should have
claret and crackers at home, Capua willing. Will it pay?"
"You shall have Port here, when Mrs. Laudersdale comes."
"Not old enough to be crusty yet, Kate," said her husband.
"Very good, for you, John!"
"Mrs. Laudersdale is your housekeeper?" asked her cousin.
"Mrs. Laudersdale? That is rich! But I should never dare to tell
her. Our housekeeper? Our cynosure! She is our argent-lidded Persian
Girl,--our serene, imperial Eleanore;--
"'Whene'er she moves,
The Samian Here rises, and she speaks
A Meinnon smitten with the morning sun.'"
"Oh, indeed! And this is a conventicle of young matrimonial victims to
practise cookery in seclusion, upon which I have blundered?"
"If the fancy pleases you, yes. There they are."
And hereon followed a series of necessary introductions.
Mr. Roger Raleigh sat with both arms leaning on the table before him,
and wondering which of the ladies, half whose names he had not heard,
was the Samian Here,--if any of them was,--and if,--and if;----and here
Mr. Roger Raleigh's reflections went wandering back to the lakeside
path and its vision. Not inopportunely at this moment, a white garment,
which, it is unnecessary to say, he had long ago seen advancing,
fluttered down the opposite path, and she herself approached.
"Ah! _Al fresco?_" said the pleasantest voice in the world.
"And isn't it charming?" asked Mrs. McLean. "Imagine us with tables
spread outside the door in Fifth Avenue, in Chestnut Street, or on the
"Even then the arabesque would be wanting," said she, trailing a long
branch of the wild grape-vine, with its pale and delicately fragrant
blooms, along the snowy board. "Are the cheese-cakes a success, Mrs.
McLean? I didn't dine, and am famished.--I see that you have at last
heard from your cousin," she added, in an undertone.
"Yes; let me pre--Roger!"
Quickly frustrating any such presentation, Mr. Roger Raleigh half
turned, and, bowing, said,--
"I believe I have had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Laudersdale before."
Her haughtiness would have frozen any one else. She bent with the least
possible inclination, and sat down upon a stump that immediately became
a throne. He resumed his former position, and drummed lightly on the
table, while waiting to be served. In less complete repose than she had
previously seen him, Mrs. Laudersdale now examined anew the individual
Not by any means tall she found him, but having the square shoulders and
broad chest which give, in so much greater a degree than mere height,
an impression of strength,--a frame agile and compact, with that easy
carriage of the head and that rapid movement so deceptively increasing
the stature. The face, too, was probably what, if not informed by a
singularly clean and fine soul, would, in the lapse of years, become
gross,--the skin of a clear olive, which had slightly flushed as he
addressed herself, but not when speaking to other strangers,--kept
beardless, and rather square in contour; the mouth not small, but keenly
cut, like marble, and always quivering before he spoke, as if the
lightning of his thought ran thither naturally to seek spontaneous
expression; teeth white; chin cleft; nose of the unclassified order,
rather long, the curve opposite to aquiline, and saved from sharpness by
nostrils that dilated with a pulse of their own, as those of very proud
and sensitive people are apt to do; a wide, low forehead crowned with
dark hair, long and fine; heavy brows that overhung deep-set eyes of
lightest hazel, but endowed by shadow with a power that no eye of
gypsy-black ever swayed for an instant. His whole countenance reminded
you of nothing so much as of the young heroes of the French Revolution,
for whom irregular features and sallow cheeks were transmuted into
brilliant and singular beauty. It wore an inwrapped air, and, with
all its mobility, was a mask. He very seldom raised the lids, and his
pallor, though owning more of the golden touch of the sun, was as
dazzling as Mrs. Laudersdale's own.
Mrs. Laudersdale scarcely observed,--she felt; and probably she saw
nothing but the general impression of what I have been telling you.
"Tea, Roger?" asked Mrs. McLean.
"Green, I thank you, and strong."
Rising to receive it, he continued his course till it naturally brought
him before Mrs. Laudersdale. Pausing deliberately and sipping the
pungent tonic, he at last looked up, and said,--
"Well, you are offended?"
"Then you were awake when I stayed to look at you?" she asked, in reply;
for curiosity is a solvent.
"Then you _did_ stay and look at me? That is exactly what I wished to
know. How did I look, Belphoebe?"
"Out of his eyes, tell him," said Helen Heath, in passing.
"They were not open," responded Mrs. Laudersdale. "And I cannot tell how
you saw me."
"I saw you as Virgil saw his mother,--I mean Aeneas,--as the goddesses
are always known, you remember, in departure."
Mrs. Laudersdale felt a weight on her lids beneath his glance, and rose
to approach the table.
"Allow me," said Mr. Raleigh, taking her plate and bringing it back
directly with a wafery slice of bread and a quaking tumulus of jelly.
Mrs. Laudersdale laughed, though perhaps scarcely pleased with him.
"How did you know my tastes so well?" she asked.
"Since they are not mine," he replied. "Of course you eat jelly, because
it is no trouble; you choose your bread thin for the same reason;
likewise you would find a glass of that suave, rich cream delicious.
Among all motions, you prefer smooth sailing; and I'll venture to say
that you sleep in down all summer."
Mrs. Laudersdale looked up in slow and still astonishment; but Mr.
Raleigh was already pouring out the glass of cream.
"I've no doubt you would like to have me sweeten it," said he, offering
it to her; "but I will not humor such ascetic tendencies. I never
approved of flagellation."
And as he spoke, he was gone to break ground for a flirtation with Helen
Helen Heath appeared to be one of those gay, not-to-be-heart-broken
damsels who can drink forever of this dangerous and exhilarating cup
without showing symptoms of intoxication. Young men who have nothing
worse to do with their time gravitate naturally and unawares toward them
for amusement, and spin out the thread till they reach its end, without
expectation, without surprise, without regret, without occasion for
remorse. Mr. Raleigh could not have been more unfortunate than he was in
meeting her, since it gave him reason and excuse henceforth for visiting
the Bawn at all seasons.
The table was at last removed, the dew began to fall, Mrs. Laudersdale
shivered and withdrew toward the house.
"_Incessu patet dea,_" Mr. Raleigh remembered.
Somewhat later, he started from his seat, bade them all good-night, ran
gayly down the bank, and shoved off from shore. And shortly after, Mrs.
Laudersdale, looking from her window, saw, for an instant, a single
fire-fly hovering over the dark lake. It was Mr. Roger Raleigh's
distant lantern, as, stretched at ease, he turned the slow leaves of a
Froissart, and suffered the Arrow to drift as it would across the night.
The next morning Mrs. Laudersdale descended, as usual, to the
breakfast-table, at an hour when all the rest had concluded their
repast. Miss Helen Heath alone remained, trifling with the tea-cups, and
singing little exercises.
"Quite an acquisition, Mrs. Laudersdale!" said she.
"What?" said the other, languidly, leaning one arm on the table and
looking about for any appetizing edible. "What is an acquisition?"
"You mean who. Mr. Raleigh, of course. But isn't it the queerest
thing in the world, up here in this savage district, to light upon a
"Is this a savage district? And is Mr. Raleigh a gentleman?"
"Is he? I never saw his match."
"What! don't you find him so? a thorough gentleman?"
"I don't know what a thorough gentleman is, I dare say," assented Mrs.
Laudersdale, indifferently, with no spirit for repartee, breaking an egg
and putting it down, crumbling a roll, and finally attacking a biscuit,
but gradually raising the siege, yawning, and leaning back in her chair.
"You poor thing!" said Helen. "You are starving to death. What shall I
get for you? I have influence in the kitchens. Does marmalade, to spread
your muffins, present any attractions? or shall I beg for rusks? or what
do you say to doughnuts? there are doughnuts in this closet; crullers
and milk are nice for breakfast."
And in a few minutes Helen had rifled a shelf of sufficient temptations
to overcome Mrs. Laudersdale's abstinence.
"After all," said she then, "you didn't answer my question."
"If it weren't odd to meet Mr. Raleigh here."
"I don't know," said Mrs. Laudersdale.
"Dear! Mary Purcell takes as much interest. She said he was impertinent,
made her talk too much, and made fun of her."
"You are as aggravating as he! If you had anything to do except to look
divinely, we'd quarrel. I thought I had a nice bit of entertaining news
"Is that your trouble? I should be sorry to oppress you with it longer.
Pray, tell it."
"Will it entertain you?"
"It won't bore _you_."
"I don't know that I _will_ tell it on such terms. However, I--must
talk. Well, then. I have not been dreaming by daylight, but up and
improving my opportunities. Partly from himself, and partly from Kate,
and partly from the matron here, I have made the following discoveries.
Mr. Roger Raleigh has left some very gay cities, and crossed some
parallels of latitude, to exile himself in this wilderness of ice and
snow,--that's what you and I vote it, whether the trees are green and
the sun shines, or not; and I don't see what bewitched mother to adopt
such a suicidal plan as coming here to be buried alive. He, that is, Mr.
Raleigh, to join my ends, has lived here for five years; and as he came
when he was twenty, he is consequently about my age now,--I shouldn't
wonder if a trifle older than you. He came here because an immense
estate was bequeathed him on the condition that he should occupy this
corner of it during one-half of every year from his twenty-first to his
thirty-first He has chosen to occupy it during the entire year, running
down now and then to have a little music or see a little painting.
Sometimes a parcel of his friends,--he never was at college, hasn't
any chums, and has educated himself by all manner of out-of-the-way
dodges,--sometimes these friends, odd specimens, old music-masters,
rambling artists, seedy tutors, fencers, boxers, hunters, clowns, all
light down together, and then the neighborhood rings with this precious
covey: the rest of the year, may-be, he don't see an individual. One
result of this isolation is, that freaks which would be very strange
escapades in other people with him are mere commonplaces. Sometimes he
goes over to the city there, and roams round like a lost soul seeking
for its body; sometimes he goes up a hundred miles or two, takes a guide
and handles the mountains; and, except in the accidents at such times,
he hasn't seen a woman since he came."
"That accounts," said Mrs. Laudersdale.
"Yes. But just think what a life!"
"He wouldn't stay, if he didn't like," replied Mrs. Laudersdale, to whom
the words poverty and riches conveyed not the least idea.
"I don't know. He has an uncle, of whom he is very fond, in India,"
continued Helen,--"an unfortunate kind of man, with whom everything
goes wrong, and who is always taking fevers; and once or twice Mr.
Raleigh has started to go and take care of him, and lose the whole
estate by the means. He intends to endow him, I believe, by-and-by, when
the thing is at his disposal. This uncle kept him at school, when he was
an orphan in different circumstances, at a Jesuit institution; and he
and Miss Kent were always quarrelling over him, and she thought she had
tied up her property nicely out of old Reuben Raleigh's way. It will be
nuts, if he ever accepts his nephew's proposed present. The best of it
all is, that, if he breaks the condition,--there's no accounting for
the caprices of wills,--part of it goes to a needy institution, and part
of it inalienably to Mrs. McLean, who"--
"Is an institution, too."
"Who is not needy. There, isn't that a pretty little _conte?_"
"Very," said Mrs. Laudersdale, having listened with increasing interest.
"But, Helen, you'll be a gossip, if you go on and prosper."
"Why, my dear child! He'll be over here every day now; and do you
suppose I'm going to flirt with any one, when I don't know his
antecedents? There he is now!"
And as Mrs. Laudersdale turned, she saw Mr. Raleigh standing composedly
in the doorway and surveying them. She bade him good-morning, coolly
enough, while Helen began searching the grounds of the tea-cups, rather
uncertain how much of her recital might have met his ears.
"Turning tea-cups, Gypsy Helen, and telling fates, all to no audience,
and with no cross on your palm?" asked the guest.
"So you ignore Mrs. Laudersdale?"
"Not at all; you weren't looking at her cup,--if she has one. Will you
have the morning paper?" he asked of that lady, who, receiving it,
leisurely unfolded and glanced over its extent.
"Where's my Cousin Kate?" then demanded Mr. Raleigh of Helen, having
regarded this performance.
"Gone shopping in town."
"Her vocation. For the day?"
"No,--it is time for their return now. When you hear wheels"--
"I hear them"; and he strolled to the window. "You should have said,
when I heard tongues; Medes and Elamites and the dwellers in Mesopotamia
were less cheerful. A very pretty team. So she took her conjugal
appurtenance with her?"
"And left her cousinly impertinence behind her," retorted a gay voice
from his elbow.
"Ah, Kate! are you there? It's not a moment since I saw you 'coming from
the town.' A pretty hostess, you! I arrive on your invitation to pass
"But I didn't expect you before the sun."
"To pass the day, and find you absent and the breakfast-table not
"My dear Roger, we have not quite taken our habits yet. As soon as the
country-air shall have wakened and made over Helen and Mrs. Laudersdale,
you will find us ready for company at daybreak."
"What a passion for 'company'! I shall not be surprised some day to
receive cards for your death-bed."
"Friends and relatives invited to attend? No, Roger, you mustn't be
naughty. You shall receive cards for my dinner-party before we go,
if you won't come without; for we have innumerable friends in town,
"What's that? A newspaper? A newspaper! How McLean will chuckle!" And
she seized the sheet which Mrs. Laudersdale had abandoned in sweeping
from the room.
"Is there a Mr. Laudersdale? Where is he?" asked Mr. Raleigh, as he
leaned against the window.
"Who?" asked his cousin, deep in a paragraph.
"Mr. Laudersdale. Where is he?"
"Oh! between his four planks, I suppose," she replied, thinking of the
Soundboat's berth, which probably contained the gentleman designated.
"Between his four planks," repeated Mr. Raleigh, in a musing tone,
entirely misinterpreting her, and to this little accident owing nearly
thirteen years' unhappiness.
"She must have married early," he continued.
"Oh, fabulously early," replied Mrs. McLean, between the lines she read.
"She is Creole, I believe. She is perfect. The women are as infatuated
about her as the men. Here's Helen Heath been dawdling round the table
all the morning for the sake of chatting to her while she breakfasts. I
don't know why, I'm sure; the woman's charming, but she's too lazy even
to talk. McLean! Another flurry in France."
And after shaking hands with Mr. Raleigh, that worthy seized the
proffered paper and vanished behind it, leaving to his wife the
entertainment of her cousin, which duty she seemed by no means in haste
to assume, preferring to remain and vex her husband with a thousand
little teasing arts. Meanwhile Mr. Raleigh proceeded to take that office
upon himself, by crossing the hall, exploring the parlors, examining the
manuscript commonplace-books, and finally by sketching on a leaf of
his pocket-book Mrs. Laudersdale, at the other end of the piazza,
half-swinging in the vines through which broad sunbeams poured, while
Helen Heath was singing and several other ladies were busying themselves
with books and needle-work in her vicinity."
"Ah, Mr. Raleigh!" said Helen Heath, as he put up the pocket-book and
drew near,--"Mrs. Laudersdale and I have been wondering how you amuse
yourself up here; and I make my discovery. You study animated nature;
that is to say, you draw Mrs. Laudersdale and me."
"Mistaken, Miss Helen. I draw only Mrs. Laudersdale; and do you call
that animated nature?"
"I wish you would draw. Mrs. Laudersdale _out._"
At this point Mrs. Laudersdale _fell_ out; but, without otherwise
stirring from his position than by moving an apparently careless arm,
Mr. Raleigh caught and restored her to her balance, as lightly as if
he had brushed a floating gossamer from the air to his finger. For the
first time, perhaps, in her life, a carnation blossomed an instant in
her cheek, then all was as before,--only two of the party felt on that
instant that in some mysterious manner their relations with each other
were entirely changed.
"But what _is_ it that you do with yourself?" persisted Helen. "Tell us,
that we may do likewise."
"Will you come and see?" he asked,--his eyes, however, on Mrs.
"Will you come in away from the lake to the brooks, and hang among the
alders and angle, dreaming, all day long? Or will you rise at dead of
night and go out on the lake with me and watch field after field of
white lilies flash open as the sun touches them with his spear? Or will
you lie during still noons up among the farmers' fields where myriad
bandrol corn-poppies flaunt over your head, and stain your finger-tips
with the red berries that hang like globes of light in the
palace-gardens of mites and midges, soaking yourself in hot sunshine and
south-winds and heavy aromatic earth-scents?"
"Come!" said Mrs. Laudersdale, rising earnestly, like one in an eager
"It is plain that you are in training for a poet," said Helen Heath,
laughing, to Mr. Raleigh. "Well, when will you take us? Are the lilies
in bloom? Shall we go to-morrow morning?"
"I don't know that I shall take you at all, Miss Helen;--river-lilies
might suit you best; but these queens of the lakes, the great, calm
pond-lilies, creatures of quiet and white radiance,--I have seen only
one head that possessed enough of the genuine East-Indian repose to be
crowned with them."
"You like repose," said Mrs. Laudersdale. "But what is it?"
"Repose is strength,--life that develops from within, and feels itself
and has no need of effort. Repose is inherent security."
"Goodness!" exclaimed Helen. "Article first in a new
dictionary,--encyclopedia, I should say. You worship, but you don't
possess your god, for you look at this moment like a shaft in the bow;
and here comes an archer to give it flight."
"Where are you going, Kate?" said her cousin.
"To pick strawberries in the garden. Want to come?"
The three could do no better than accept her invitation. The good ladies
might stare as they could after Mrs. Laudersdale, and wonder what
sudden sprite had possessed her, since for neither man nor woman of the
numerous party had she hitherto condescended to lift an unwonted eyelid;
what they would have said to have seen her plunged in a strawberry-bed,
gathering handfuls and raining them drop by drop into Helen Heath's
mouth, to silence her while she herself might talk,--her own fingers
tipped with more sanguine shade than their native rose, her eyes full
of the noon sparkle, and her lips parted with laughter,--we cannot say.
Roger Raleigh forgot to move, to speak, to think, as he watched her. But
in the midst of this brilliant and novel gayety of hers, there was still
a dignity to make one feel that she had by no means abandoned her regal
purple, but merely adorned it with profuse golden flourishes.
At dinner that day, Helen begged to know if there were not a great many
routes in the vicinity practicable only on horseback, and thought she
had attained her end when Mr. Raleigh put his horses and his escort at
the service of herself and Mrs. Laudersdale during their stay.
"During our stay!" said Mrs. Laudersdale. "That reminds me that we are
to go away!"
"Pleasantly, certainly. When snows fall and storms pipe, the Bawn is an
icehouse," said he.
After noon, the remainder of the day was interspersed with light
thunder-showers, rendering tea on the grass again impossible; they
passed the steaming cups, therefore, as they sat on the piazza curtained
with dripping woodbine. The glitter of the drops in the sunset light, a
jewelled scintillation, was caught in Mrs. Laudersdale's eyes, and some
unconscious excitement fanned a faint color to and fro on her cheek.
At last the moon rose; the whole party, regardless of wet slippers,
sauntered with Mr. Raleigh to the shore, where the little Arrow hung
balancing on her restraining cord. Mrs. Laudersdale stepped in, Mr.
Raleigh followed, took up an oar, and pushed out, both standing, and
drifting slowly for a few rods' distance; then Mr. Raleigh made the
shore again, assisted her out, and shot impatiently away alone. The
waters shone like white fire in the wake he cut, great shadows fall
through them where island and wood intercepted the broad ascending
light, and Mrs. Laudersdale's gay laugh rung across them, as the space
grew,--a sweet, rich laugh, that all the spirits of the depths caught
and played with like a rare beam that transiently illumined their
shadowy, silent haunts.
The next day, and the next, and so for a fortnight, Mr. Roger Raleigh
presented himself with the breakfast-urn at the Bawn, tarried during
sunshine, slipped home by starlight across the lake. Every day Mrs.
Laudersdale was more brilliant, and flashed with a cheery merriment like
harmless summer-lightnings. One night, as he pushed away from the bank,
"_Au revoir_ for five hours."
"For five hours?" said Mrs. Laudersdale.
"For five hours."
"At half-past three in the night?"
"In the morning."
"And what brings you here at dead of dark?"
"The lilies and the dawn."
"Indeed! And whom do you expect to find?"
"You and Miss Helen."
"Well, summer and freedom are here; I am ready for all fates, all deeds
of valor, vigils among the rest. We will await you at half-past three in
the morning. Helen, we must sleep at high-pressure, soundly, crowding
all we can on the square inch of time. _Au revoir_."
A shadow stood on the piazza, in the semi-darkness, at the appointed
hour; two other shadows flitted forward to meet it, and silently down
the bank, into the boat, and out upon the lonely glimmering reaches
of the water. Nobody spoke; the midnight capture of no fort was ever
effected with more phantom-like noiselessness than now went to surprise
the Vestals of the Lake; only as two hands touched for an instant, a
strange thrill, like fire, quivered through each and tore them apart
more swiftly than two winds might cross each other's course. Helen Heath
was drowsy and half-nodding in the bow, nodding with the more ease that
it was still so dark and that Mr. Raleigh's back was toward her. Mrs.
Laudersdale reclined in the stern. Mr. Raleigh once in a while sent them
far along with a strong stroke, then only an occasional plash broke the
charm of perfect stillness. Ever and anon they passed under the lee of
some island, and the heavy air grew full of idle night-sweetness; the
waning moon with all its sad and alien power hung low,--dun, malign, and
distant, a coppery blotch on the rich darkness of heaven. They floated
slowly, still; now and then she dipped a hand into the cool current; now
and then he drew in his oars, and, bending forward, dipped his hand with
hers. The stars retreated in a pallid veil that dimmed their beams,
faint lights streamed up the sky,--the dark yet clear and delicious.
They paused motionless in the shelter of a steep rock; over them a
wild vine hung and swayed its long wreaths in the water, a sweet-brier
starred with fragrant sleeping buds climbed and twisted, and tufts of
ribbon-grass fell forward and streamed in the indolent ripple;
beneath them the lake, lucid as some dark crystal, sheeted with olive
transparence a bottom of yellow sand; here a bream poised on slowly
waving fins, as if dreaming of motion, or a perch flashed its red
fin from one hollow to another. The shadow lifted a degree, the eye
penetrated to farther regions; a bird piped warily, then freely, a
second and a third answered, a fourth took up the tale, blue-jay and
thrush, catbird and bobolink; wings began to dart about them, the world
to rustle overhead, near and far the dark prime grew instinct with
sound, the shores and heavens blew out gales of melody, the air broke up
in music. He lifted his oars silently; she caught the sweet-brier, and,
lightly shaking it, a rain of dew-drops dashed with deepest perfume
sprinkled them; they moved on. A thin mist breathed from the lake,
steamed round the boat, and lay like a white coverlet upon the water; a
light wind sprang up and blew it in long rags and ribbons, lifted, and
torn, and streaming, out of sight. All the air was pearly, the sky
opaline, the water now crisply emblazoned with a dark and splendid
jewelry,--the paved-work of a sapphire; a rosy fleece sailed across
their heads, some furnace glowed in the east behind the trees, long
beams fell resplendently through and lay beside vast shadows, the giant
firs stood black and intense against a red and risen sun; they trailed
with one oar through a pad of buds all-unaware of change, stole from
the overhanging thickets through a high-walled pass, where, on the open
lake, the broad, silent, yellow light crept from bloom to bloom and
awoke them with a touch. How perfectly they put off sleep! with what a
queenly calm displayed their spotless snow, their priceless gold, and
shed abroad their matchless scent! He twined his finger round a slippery
serpent-stem, turned the crimson underside of the floating pavilion, and
brought up a waxen wonder from its throne to hang like a star in the
black braids on her temple. An hour's harvesting among the nymphs, in
this rich atmosphere of another world, and with a loaded boat they
turned to shore again.
"Smothered in sweets!" exclaimed Mr. Raleigh, as he sprang out, and woke
Helen Heath, where, slipped down upon the floor of the boat, her head
fallen on her arms, she had lain half-asleep. They were the first words
spoken during the morning, and in such situations silence is dangerous.
When the rest of the family descended to breakfast, they found the
pictures framed in wreaths of lilies, great floats of them in hall and
parlor, and the table laden with flat dishes where with coiled stems
they crowded, a white, magnificent throng. Mr. Raleigh still lingered,
and, while Mrs. Laudersdale and Helen renewed their toilets, had busied
himself in weaving a crown of these and another of poppy-leaves, hanging
the one on Mrs. Laudersdale's head, as she entered refreshed, snowy, and
fragrant herself, and the sleep-giving things on Helen's,--the latter
avenging herself by surveying her companion's adornment, and, as she
adjusted the bloom-gray leaves of her own, inquiring if olives grew
Nothing could be more airy and blithe than were Mrs. Laudersdale's
spirits all that morning,--bubbles dancing on a brook, nor foam-sparkle
of rosy Champagne. She related their adventures with graphic swiftness,
and improvised dangers and escapes with such a reckless disregard of
truth that Mr. Raleigh was forced to come to the rescue with more
startling improbabilities than they would have encountered in the
The red dawn brought its rain, and before they rose from table the
sunshine withdrew and large drops began to patter in good earnest. Mr.
Raleigh, who had generally suffered others to entertain him, now, as
Mrs. McLean ushered the whole company into the sewing-room, seemed
spurred by gayety and brilliance, and to bring into employ all those
secrets through which he had ever annihilated time. For a while devoting
himself to the elder dames, he won the heart of one by a laborious
invention of a million varicolored angles to a square barley-corn of
worsted--work, involved Mrs. McLean's crocheting in an inextricable
labyrinth as he endeavored to afford her some requisite conchological
assistance, and turned with three strokes a very absurd drawing of Mrs.
Laudersdale's into a splendid caricature. Having made himself thus
generally useful, he now proceeded to make himself generally agreeable;
went with all necessary gravity through a series of complicate
dancing-steps with Miss Heath; begged Miss Purcell, who was longing to
cry over her novel, to allow him to read for her, since he saw that she
was trying her eyes, and therewith made _fiasco_ of a page of delicious
dolor; and being challenged to chess by a third, declared that was
child's play, and dominoes was the game for science,--whereon, having
seated a circle at that absorbing sport, he deserted for a meerschaum
and the gentlemen, and in company with Captain Purcell, Mr. McLean, and
the rest, rolled up from the hall below wreaths of smoke, bursts of
laughter, and finally chimes of those concordant voices with which
gentlemen talk politics, and, even when agreeing infamously, become
vociferant and high-colored.
It was after lunch that Mrs. Laudersdale, having grown weary of the
needle-women's thread of discourse, left the sewing-room and proceeded
toward her own apartment. Just as she crossed the head of the staircase,
the hall-door was flung open, admitting a gleeful blast of the
boisterous gale, and an object that, puffing and blowing like a sad-hued
dolphin, and shaking like a Newfoundland, appeared at first to be the
famous South-West Wind, Esq., in proper person,--whose once sumptuous
array clung to his form, and whose face and hands, shining as coal,
rolled off the rain like a bronze.
"Bless my heart, Capua!" cried Mr. Raleigh, removing the stem from his
lips; "how came you here?"
"Lors, Massa, it's only me," said Capua.
"So I see," replied his master, restoring the pipe to its former
position. "How did you come?"
"'Bout swimmed, I 'spect," answered Capua, grounding a chuckle on a reef
of ivory. "'Ta'n't no fish-story, dat!"
"Well, what brings you?"
"Naughty Nan,--she hadn't been out"--
"Do you mean to say, you rascal! that you've taken Nan out on such a
day? and round the lake, too, I'll warrant?" asked Mr. Raleigh, with
"Jes' dat; an' round de lake, ob course; we couldn' come acrost."
"You've ruined her, then"------
"Bress you, Massa, she won't ketch no cold,--she! Smokes like a beaver
now; came like streak o' lightnin'."
"You may as well swim her back,--and where we can all see the sport,
"No buts about it, Capua," insisted his master, with mock gravity, the
stem between his teeth.
"'Spect I'd better rub her down, now I'se here, an' wait'll it holds up
a bit, Mass' Roger?" urged Capua, coaxingly.
"Do as you're bid!" ejaculated his master; which, evidently, from long
habit, meant, Do as you please.
Mrs. Laudersdale and Helen Heath had crept down the stairs during this
dialogue, and now stood interested spectators of the scene. Mrs. McLean
came running down behind them.
"Forgotten me, Capua?" said she.
"Lors, Miss Kate!" he replied, scraping his foot and pulling off his
hat,--"Cap never f'gets his friends, though you've growed. How d'ye do,
"Nicely, thank you. And how's your wife?"
"My wife? Well, she's 'bout beat out. Massa Roger 'n' I, we buried her;
finer funeral dan Massa Roger's own mother, Miss Kate, dat was!"
"Poor fellow! I'm so sorry!" began Mrs. McLean, consolingly.
"Well, Miss Kate, you know some folks is easier spared 'n others. Some
tongues sharper 'n others. Alwes liked to gib a hot temper time to cool,
's Massa says."
"And how do _you_ do, Capua?"
"Pretty well, Miss Kate; leastways, I'se well enough,--a'n't so pretty."
"_What_ is his name?" whispered Helen.
"'Annible, Missis," said the attentive Capua, whose eyes had been for
some time oscillating with indecision between Helen Heath and Mrs.
Laudersdale. "Hannibal Raleigh's my name; though Massa alwes call me
Cap," he added, insinuatingly,--which, by the way, "Massa" never had
been known to do.
"And are you always going to stay and take care of Master Roger?"
"'Spect I shall. Lors, Miss Kate, he's more bother to me 'n all my
"That will do, Capua," said his master; "you may go." And therewith
Capua scuffled away.
"Well, Roger, what does this mean?" asked Mrs. McLean, as the door
"It means that Capua, having been dying of curiosity, has resolved to
die game, and therefore takes matters into his own hands, and arrives to
inspect my conduct and my company."
"Ah, I see. He trembles for his sceptre."
"Miss Heath," said Mr. McLean, rallyingly, "you received a great many of
the sable shafts."
"A Saint Sebastiana," said his wife.
"Did Saint Sebastian die of his wounds?" asked Helen.
"Let me tell you, Miss Helen," said Mr. Raleigh, "that Capua is a
connoisseur, and his _dictum_ is worth all flatteries. If he had only
been with us this morning!"
"You have teased me so much about that, Mr. Raleigh, that I have half a
mind never to go with you on another expedition."
"Make no rash vows. I was just thinking what fine company you would
be when trouting. The most enchanting quiet is required then, you are
"Oh! when shall we go trouting?"
"We? It was only half a mind, then! We will go to-morrow, wind and
"And what must I do?"
"You must keep still, stand in the shadow, and fish up-stream."
At this point, Capua put his head inside the door again.
"What is it?" asked Mr. Raleigh.
"Forgot to say, Massa," replied Capua, rolling his eyes fearfully, and
still hesitating, and half-closing the door, and then looking back.
"Mass' Raleigh, your house done been burned up!" said Capua, at last,
jerking back his head, as if afraid of losing it.
"Ah? And what did you do with"----
"Oh, eberyting safe an' sound. 'Ta'n't dat house; 'ta'n't dis yer house
Massa lib in;--Massa's _sparrer_-house. Reckoned I'd better come and
"Is that all?" asked his master, who was accustomed to Capua's method of
breaking ill news.
"Now, Mass' Roger, don't you go to being pervoked an' flyin' into one
ob dese yer tempers! It's all distinguished now. Ole Cap didn' want to
shock his young massa, so thought 'twarn't de wisest way to tell him
'twarn't de sparrer-house, either, at first. 'Twas de inside ob de
libery, if he must know de troof; wet an' smutty dar now, mebbe, but no
"Why not? What made the fire go out?" asked Mr. Raleigh, composedly.
"Well, two reasons," replied Capua, rolling a glance over the
company;--"one was dis chile's exertions; an' t'other fact, on account
ob wich de flames was checked, was because dere warn't no more to burn.
"Capua, take Nan, and don't let me see your face again, till I send for
it!" said his master, now slightly irate.
"Massa's nigger alwes mind him," was the dutiful response.
Mrs. Laudersdale's handkerchief fell at that moment from the hand that
hung over the balustrade. Capua darted to restore it.
"Bress her pretty eyes!" said he. "Ole Cap see's fur into a millstone as
any one!" and vanished through the doorway.
"I beg your pardon," said Mr. Raleigh, turning to Mrs. Laudersdale. "He
has refused to leave me, and I must indulge him too much, and my
sins fall on the head of the nearest passer. He appears to have a
constitutional inability to comprehend this absence of punishment. His
immunity is so painful to him that I sometimes fancy him to be homesick
for a lashing. Now if I do not hasten home, Kate, I shall find a
conflagration of the whole house there before me."
And making quick adieux,--while Mrs. Laudersdale jested about tempting
the raging waters, and the dinner-bell was ringing, and Helen singing,
"Come o'er the stream, Charlie, and dine wi' McLean,"--he opened the
door, suffered a patch of blue sky to be seen, and the segment of an
afternoon rainbow, shut it, and was gone.
Early again the next morning, Mr. Raleigh sought the Bawn, followed this
time by Capua, who was determined not to lose any ground once made, and
who now carried the rods, bait, and other paraphernalia.
"Powerful pretty woman, dat, Massa!" said he, as through the open doors
a voice was heard gayly exclaiming and answering.
"Which one, Capua?" asked his master.
"A'n't no t'orrer," was his reply; "leastwise, a'n't no 'count,--good
for nott'n. Now she,--pity she a'n't single, Massa,--should say she'd
lived where sun was plenty and had laid up heaps in her heart."
Here Mrs. Laudersdale came out, and shortly afterward Helen and three or
four others. In reply to their questions, Mr. Raleigh stated that the
preceding day's disaster had been occasioned by a meerschaum, and had
merely charred a table with its superficies of papers and pamphlets,
which Capua had chosen to magnify for his own purposes; and the
assemblage immediately turned its course inland and toward the brooks.
The two who led soon distanced the rest, Capua trudging respectfully
behind and keeping them in sight. Here, as they brushed along through
the woods, they delayed in order to examine a partridge's nest, to
tree a squirrel, to gather some strange wild-flower opening at their
approach. Here on the banks they watched the bitterns rise and sail
heavily away, and finally in silence commenced the genuine sport.
"Nonsense!" said Helen Heath, meaningly, as Mrs. Laudersdale, when the
others joined them, displayed her first capture. "Is that all you've
Mrs. Laudersdale drew in another for reply.
"How absurd!" said Helen. "Here a month ago you were the dearest and
most helpless of mortals, and now you are doing everything!"
The other opened her eyes a moment, and then laughed.
"Hush!" said she.
"Shs! shs!" echoed Capua, making an infinite hubbub himself.
Silence accordingly reigned and produced a string fit for the Sultan's
kitchen,--of all the number, Mrs. Laudersdale adding by far the
majority,--possibly because her shining prey found destination in
the same basket with Mr. Raleigh's,--possibly because, as Helen had
intimated, a sudden deftness had bewitched her fingers, so that neither
dropping rod nor tangling reel detained her for an instant.
"Our lines have fallen in pleasant places," said Helen, as they took at
last their homeward path; "and what a shame! not an adventure yet!"
Mrs. McLean hung on Mr. Raleigh's arm as they went,--for she had taken a
whim and feared to see her cousin in the fangs of a coquette; by which
means Helen became the companion of Captain Purcell and his daughter,
and Mrs. Laudersdale kept lightly in advance, leading a gambol with
the greyhound that Capua had added to the party, and presenting in one
person, as she went springing from knoll to knoll along the bank, now in
sunshine, now in shade, lifting the green boughs or sweeping them aside,
a succession of the vivid figures of some antique and processional
frieze. Suddenly, with a quick cry, she disappeared, and Helen had her
adventure. Mr. Raleigh darted forward, while the hound came frisking
back; yet, when he found her fainting in the hollow, stood with stolid
immobility until Capua snatched her up and carried her along in his
arms, leaving his master to reflect how many times such swarthy
servitors might have borne her, as a child, through her island groves.
And thus the party, somewhat sobered, resumed their march again. But in
the discovery that he had not dared to lift her in his arms, he who
took such liberties with every one,--that, lying under her semblance of
death, she had inspired him with a certain awe, that he had suddenly
found this woman to be an object somewhat sacred,--in this discovery Mr.
Raleigh learned not a little. And it would not, perhaps, be an untrue
surmise that he found therein as much of pain as of any other emotion;
since all the experiences and passions of life must share the phenomena
of the great fact itself whose pulse beats through them; and if to love
unawares be to dwell like a child in the region of thoughtless and
innocent bliss, in attaining manhood all the sadness which is to be
eliminated from life becomes apparent, and bliss henceforth must be
sought and earned. From that day, then, Mr. Raleigh with difficulty
retained his former habits, prevented any eagerness of manner,
maintained a cautious vigilance, and in so doing he again became aware
that the easy _insouciance_ with which he addressed all other women had
long been lost toward Mrs. Laudersdale, or, if yet existing, had become
like the light and tender play of any lingering summer-wind in the tress
upon her brow.
Mrs. Laudersdale's ankle having been injured by her fall, and Mrs.
McLean having taken a cold, the two invalids now became during a week
and a day the auditory for all quips and pranks that Miss Heath and Mr.
Raleigh could devise. And on the event of their convalescence, the Lord
of Misrule himself seemed to have ordained the course of affairs, with
a swarming crew of all the imps and mischiefs ever hatched. Mr. Raleigh
and Capua went and came with boat-loads of gorgeous stuff from across
the lake, a little old man appeared on the spot in answer to a flight
of telegrams, machinery and scenery rose like exhalations, music was
brought from the city, all the availables of the family were to be found
in garden, closet, house-top, conning hieroglyphical pages, and the
whole chaotic confusion takes final shape and resolves into a little
Spanish Masque, to which kings and queens have once listened in courtly
state, and which now unrolls its resplendent pageant before the eyes
of Mrs. Laudersdale, translating her, as it were, into another planet,
where familiar faces in pompous entablature look out upon her from a
whirl of light and color, and familiar voices utter stately sentences
in some honeyed unknown tongue. And finally, when the glittering parade
finishes, and the strange groups, in their costly raiment, throng out
for dancing, she herself gives her hand to some Prince of the pageantry,
who does her homage, and, sealing the fact of her restoration, swims
once round the room in a mist of harmony, and afterward sits by his
side, captive to his will, and subject to his enchantment, while
"All night had the roses heard
The flute, violin, bassoon,
All night had the casement jessamine stirred
With the dancers dancing in tune,
Till a silence fell with the waking bird
And a hush with the setting moon."
This little episode of illness and recovery having been thus duly
celebrated, the masqueraders again forswore roofs and spent long days in
distant junketing throughout the woods; the horses, too, were brought
into requisition, and a flock of boats kept forever on the wing. And
meanwhile, as Helen Heath said,--she then least of all comprehending the
real drama of that summer,--Mrs. Laudersdale had taught them how the
Greek animated his statue.
"And how was that?" asked Mr. Raleigh.
"He took it out-doors, I fancy, and called the winds to curl about it.
He set its feet in morning-dew, he let in light and shade through green
dancing leaves above it, he gave it glimpses of moon and star, he taught
the forest-birds to chirp and whistle in its ear, and finally he steeped
it in sunshine."
"Sunshine, then, was the vivifying stroke?"
"You are mistaken," said he; "the man never found a soul in his work
till he put his own there first."
"I always wonder," remarked Mrs. Laudersdale here, "that every artist,
in brooding over his marble, adding, touching, bringing out effects,
does not end by loving it,--absorbingly, because so beautiful to
him,--despairingly, because to him forever silent."
"You needn't wonder anything about it," said Helen, mischievously. "All
that you have to do is to make the most of your sunshine."
Mr. McLean, struck with some sudden thought, inspected the three as they
stood in a blaze of the midsummer noon, then crossed over to his little
wife, drew her arm in his, and held it with cautious imprisonment. The
other wife did as she was bidden, and made the most of her sunshine.
If, on first acquaintance, Mrs. Laudersdale had fascinated by her
repose, her tropical languor, her latent fire, the charm was none the
less, when, turning, it became one dazzle of animation, of careless
freedom, of swift and easy grace. Nor, unfamiliar as were such traits,
did they seem at all foreign to her, but rather, when once donned, never
to have been absent; as if, indeed, she had always been this royal
creature, this woman bright and winning as some warm, rich summer's day.
The fire that sleeps in marble never flashes and informs the whole
mass so fully; if a pearl--lazy growth and accretion of amorphous
life--should fuse and form again in sparkling crystals, the miracle
would be less. And with what complete unconsciousness had she stepped
from passive to positive existence, and found this new state to be as
sweet and strange as any child has found it! Long a wife, she had known,
nevertheless, nothing but quiet custom or indifference, and had dreamed
of love only as the dark and silent side of the moon might dream of
light. Now she grew and unfolded in the warmth of this season, like a
blossom perfumed and splendid. Sunbeams seemed to lance themselves
out of heaven and splinter about her. She queened it over demesnes of
sprite-like revelry; the life they led was sylvan; at their _fetes_
the sun assisted. The summer held to her lips a glass whose rosy
effervescence, whose fleeting foam, whose tingling spirit exhaled a
subtile madness of joy,--a draught whose lees were despair. So nearly
had she been destitute of emotion hitherto that she had scarcely a right
to be classed with humanity; now, indeed, she would win that right. Not
only her character, but her beauty, became another thing under all this
largess; one remembered the very Persian rose, in looking at her, and
thought of gardens amid whose clouds of rich perfume the nightingales
sang all night long; her manner, too, became strangely gracious, and a
sweetness lingered after her presence, delicate and fine as the drop of
honey in some flower's nectary. So she woke from her icy trance; but,
alas! what had wakened her?
The summer was passing. Every day the garden-scenes of Watteau became
vivid and real; every evening Venice was made possible, when shadowy
barks slipped down dusk tides, freighted with song and laughter, and
snatches of guitar-tinkling; and when some sudden torch, that for an
instant had summoned with its red fire all fierce lights and strong
glooms, dipped, hissed, and quenched below, and, a fantastic flotilla,
they passed on into the broad brilliance of a rising moon, all
Middle-Age mythology rose and wafted them back into the obscurity. It
was a life too fine for every day, fare too rich for health; they must
be exotics who did not wither in such hot-house air. It was rapidly
becoming unnatural. They performed in the daylight stray clarified bits
from Fletcher or Moliere, drama of an era over-ripe; they sang only from
an old book of madrigals; their very reading was fragmentary,--now an
emasculated Boccaccio, then a curdling phantasm of Poe's, and after some
such scenic horror as the "Red Death" Helen Heath dashed off the Pesther
If, finally, on one of the last August-nights, we had passed,
Asmodeus-like, over the roofs, looking down, we should have seen three
things. First, that Mrs. Laudersdale slept like any innocent dreamer,
and, wrapped with white moonlight, in her long and flowing outline, in
her imperceptible breath, resembling some perfect statue that we fancy
to be instinct with suspended life. Next, that Mr. Raleigh did not sleep
at all, but absorbed himself, to the entire disturbance of Capua's
slumbers, in the rapture of reproducing as he could the turbulent
passion and joy of souls larger than his own. And, lastly, that Mrs.
McLean woke with visions of burglars before her eyes, to find her pillow
deserted and her husband sitting at a writing-table.
"How startled I was!" she exclaimed. "What are you doing, dear?"
"Writing to Laudersdale," he said, in reply.
"Why, what for?--what can you be writing to him for?"
"I think it best he should come and take his wife off my hands."
"How absurd! how contemptible! how all you husbands band together like a
parcel of slaveholders, and hunt down each other's runaways!"
Mr. McLean laughed.
"Now, John, you're not making mischief?"
"No, child, I am preventing it." And therewith the worthy man, dropping
the wax on the envelope, imprinted it with a Scotch crest, and put out
the light "That's off my mind!" said he.
At last September came; a few more weeks, and they would separate,
perhaps, to the four corners of the earth. Mr. Raleigh arrived one
afternoon at the Bawn, and finding no one to welcome him,--that is to
say, Mrs. Laudersdale had gone out, and Helen Heath was invisible,--he
betook himself to a solitary stroll, and, by a short cut through the
woods, to the highway, and just before emerging from the green shadows
he met Mrs. Laudersdale.
"Whither now, Wandering Willie?" said she; for, singularly enough, they
seemed to avoid speaking each other's name in direct address, using
always some title suggested by their reading or singing, or some
"I am going to take the road."
"Like a gallant highwayman?" And without more ado, and naturally enough,
she accompanied him.
The conversation, this afternoon, was sufficiently insignificant;
indeed, Mrs. Laudersdale always affected you more by her silence than
her speech, by what she was rather than by what she said; and it is
only the impression produced on her by this walk with which we have any
The road, narrow and winding in high banks fringed with golden-rod and
purple asters, was at first completely shadowed,--an old, deep-rutted,
cross country road, birch-trees shivering at either side, and every now
and then a puff of pine-breath drifting in between. After a time it rose
gradually into the turnpike, and became a long, dusty track, stretching
as far as the eye could see, a straight, dazzling line, burnt white by
summer-heats, powdered by travel. There was no wind stirring; the sky
was lost in a hot film stained here and there with sulphurous wreaths;
the distant fields, skirted by low hills, were bathed in an azure
mist; nearer, a veil of dun and dimmer smoke from burning brush hung
motionless; around their feet the dust whirled and fell again. Bathed
in soft, voluptuous tints, hazed and mellowed, into what weird, strange
country were they hastening? What visionary land of delight, replete
with perfume and luxury, lay ever beyond?--what region rich, unknown,
forbidden, whose rank vegetation steamed with such insidious poison? And
on what arid, barren road, what weary road,--but, alas, long worn and
beaten by the feet of other wayfarers! a road that ran real and strong
through this noxious and seducing mirage!
A sudden blast of wind lifted a cloud of dust from before them and
twisted it down among the meadows; the sun thrust aside his shroud and
burnt for an instant on a scarlet maple-bough that hung in premature
brilliance across the way. The hasty color, true and fine, was like a
spell against enchantment; it was the drop that tested the virtue of
this chemistry and proved it naught.
Mrs. Laudersdale looked askance at her companion, then turned and met
his gaze. Slowly her lashes fell, the earth seemed to fail beneath her
feet, the light to swoon from her eyes, her lips shook, and a full
flush swept branding and burning up throat and face, stinging her very
forehead, and shooting down her fingertips. In an instant it had faded,
and she shone the pallid, splendid thing she was before. In that
instant, for the first time this summer, she comprehended that her
husband's existence imported anything to her. Behind the maple-tree, the
wood began again; without a syllable, she stepped aside, suffered him to
pass, and hastened to bury herself in its recesses.
What lover ever accounted for his mistress's caprices? Mr. Raleigh
proceeded on his walk alone. And what was her husband to him? He did
not know that such a man existed. For him there had been no deadly
allurement in the fervid scene; it had stretched a land of promise
veiled in its azure ardors, with intimations of rapture and certainty of
rest. Now, as he wandered on and turned down another lane to the woods,
the tints grew deeper; his eyes, bent inward, saw all the world in the
color of his thought; he would have affirmed that the bare brown banks
were lined in deep-toned indigo flower-bells whose fragrance rose
visible above them or curled from stem to stem, and that the hollows
in which the path hid itself at last were of the same soft gloom. But,
finally, when not far distant from the Bawn again, he shook off his
reverie and struck another path that he might avoid rencontre. Perhaps
the very sound that awoke him was the one he wished to shun; at the next
step it became more distinct,--a child's voice singing some tuneless
song; and directly a tiny apparition appeared before him, as if it had
taken shape, with its wide, light eyes and corn-silk hair, from the most
wan and watery of sunbeams. But what had a child to do in this paradise,
thought he, and from whence did it come? Impossible to imagine. Her
garments, of rich material, hung freshly torn, it may be, but in shreds;
her skin, if that of some fair and delicate nursling, was stained with
berries and smeared with soil; she seemed to have no destination; and
after surveying him a moment, she mounted a fallen tree, and, bending
and swinging forward over a bough, still surveyed him.
"Ah, ha!" said Mr. Roger Raleigh; "what have we here?"
The child still looked in his face, but vouchsafed, in her swinging, no
"What is the little lady's name?" he asked then.
This query, apparently more comprehensible, elicited a response. She
informed him that her name was "Dymom, Pink, and Beauty."
"Indeed! And anything else?"
"Rose Pose," she added, as if soliciting the aid of memory by lifting
her hands near her temples.
"Is that all?"
"Little silly Daffodilly."
"Rite,--ah, that is it! Rite what?"
"Rite!" said the child, authoritatively, bringing down her foot and
shaking back her hair.
"And how old is Rite?"
"One, two, four, twenty. Maman is twenty;--Rite is twenty, too."
"When was Rite four?"
"A great while ago. She went to heaven in the afternoon," was added,
confidentially, after a moment's inspection to see if he were worthy.
"Ah! And what was there there?"
"Pitchtures, and music, and peoples, and a great house."
"And where is Rite going now?"
"Going away in a ship."
"Rite will have to wash her face first."
But at this proposition the child flashed open her pale-blue orbs,
half-closed them as a sleepy cat does, and, with no other change of
countenance to mark her indignation, appeared to shut him out from her
contemplation. Directly afterward, she opened them again, bent forward
and back over the swinging, and recommenced her song, as if there were
not another person than herself within a hundred miles. Half-hidden in
the great hemlock-bough, this tiny, fantastic creature, so fair, so
supercilious, seemed in her waywardness a veritable fay, mate for any of
the little men in green, bibbers of dewdrops, lodgers in bean-blossoms,
Green-Jacket, Red-Cap, and White-Owl's-Feather.
Mr. Raleigh hesitated whether or not he should remain and watch her fade
away into the twilight, wondered if she were bewitching him, then rubbed
his hand across his eyes and said, in a disenchanted, matter-of-fact
"Do you know your way home, child?" and obtained, of course, no reply.
For an instant he had half the mind to leave her to find it; but at once
convicted of his absurdity, "Then I shall take you with me," he said,
making a step toward her,--"because you are, or will be, lost."
At the motion, she darted past and stood defiantly just out of his
reach. Mr. Raleigh attempted to seize her, but he might as easily have
put his hand on a butterfly; she eluded him always when within his
grasp, and led him such a dance up and down the forest-path as none
other than a will-o'-the-wisp, it seemed, could have woven. All at once
a dark figure glided out from another alley and snatched the sprite into
its arms. It was a colored nurse, who poured out a torrent of broken
French and English over the runaway, and made her acknowledgments to Mr.
Raleigh in the same jargon. As she turned to go, the child stretched her
arms toward her late pursuer, making the nurse pause, and, putting up
her little lips, touched with them his own; then, picturesque as ever,
and thrown into relief by the scarlet sack, snowy turban, and sable skin
of her bearer, she disappeared. It is doubtful if in all his life Mr.
Raleigh would ever receive a purer, sweeter kiss.
He had promised to be at the Bawn that evening, and now accordingly
sought the shore, where the Arrow lay, and was soon within the shelter
of his own house. The arrangement of toilet was a brief matter; and that
concluded, Mr. Raleigh entered his library, an apartment now slightly in
disarray, and therefore, perhaps, not uncongenial with his present mood.
After strolling round the place, Mr. Raleigh paused at the window an
instant, the window overhung with clematis, and commanding the long
stretch of water between him and the Bawn, which last was, however, too
distant for any movement to be discerned there. Soon Mr. Raleigh turned
his back upon the scene that lay pictured in such beauty below, and,
throwing himself into a deep armchair, remained motionless and plunged
in thought for many moments. Rising at last, he took from the table a
package of letters from India that had arrived in his absence. Glancing
absently at the superscriptions, breaking the seal of one, he replaced
them: it would take too long to read them now; they must wait. Then
Mr. Raleigh had recourse to a universal panacea, and walked to and fro
across the room, with measured, unvarying steps, till the striking clock
warned him that time was passing. Mr. Raleigh drew near his desk again,
took up the pen, and hesitated; then recalling his gaze that had seemed
to search his own inmost soul, he drew the paper nearer and wrote.
What he wrote, the very words, may not signify; with the theme one is
sufficiently acquainted. Perhaps he poured out there all that had so
often trembled on his lips without finding utterance; perhaps, if ever
passionate heart flashed its own fire into its implements, this pen and
paper quivered beneath the current throbbing through them. The page was
brief, but therein all was said. Sealing it hastily, he summoned Capua.
"Capua," said he, giving him the note, "you are to go with me across the
lake now. We shall return somewhere between eleven and twelve. Just
as we leave, you are to give this note to Mrs. Laudersdale. Do you
"Yah, Massa, let dis chile alone," responded Capua, grinning at the
prospect of society, and speedily following his master.
The breeze had fallen, so that they rowed the whole distance, with the
idle sail hanging loosely, and arrived only just as the red sunset
painted the lake behind them with blushing shadows. Mr. Raleigh
joined Helen Heath and his cousin in the hall; Capua, superb with the
importance of his commission, sought another entrance. But just as the
latter individual had crossed the threshold, he encountered the nurse
whom his master had previously met in the wood. Nothing could have
been more acceptable in his eyes than this addition to the circle
below-stairs. Capua's hat was in his hand at once, and bows and curtsies
and articulations and gesticulations followed with such confusing
rapidity, that, when the mutually pleased pair turned in company toward
the kitchens, a scrap of white paper, that had fluttered down in the
disorder, was suffered to remain unnoticed on the floor. The courier had
lost his despatch. Coming in from her walk, not five minutes later, Mrs.
Laudersdale's eye was caught thereby; stooping to take it, she read
with surprise her own name thereon, and ascended the stairs possessed
What burden of bliss, what secret of sorrow, lay infolded there, that
at the first thought she covered it with sudden kisses, and the next,
crushing it against her heart, burst into a wild weeping? Again and
again she read it, and at every word its intense magnetic strength
thrilled her, rapt her from remembrance, conquered her. She seized a
pencil and wrote hurriedly:--
"You are right. With you I live, without you I die. You shut heaven out
from me; make earth, then, heaven. Come to me, for I love you. Yes, I
She did not stay to observe the contrast between her fervent sentences
and the weak, faint characters that expressed them, but hastily sought
the servant who was accustomed to act as postman, gave him directions to
acquaint her of its reception, and watched him out of sight. All that in
the swiftness of a fever-fit. Scarcely had the boat vanished when old
thoughts rushed over her again and she would have given her life to
recall it. Returning, she found Capua eagerly searching for the lost
letter, and thus learned that she was not to have received it until
several hours later.
Perhaps no other woman in her situation could have done what Mrs.
Laudersdale had done, without incurring more guilt. There could be
few who had been reared in such isolation as she,--whose intellect,
naturally subject to her affection, had become more so through the
absence of systematic education,--whose morality had been allowed to be
merely one of instinct,--to whom introspection had been till now a thing
unknown,--and who, accepting a husband as another child accepts a
parent, had, in the whirl of gay life where she afterward reigned, found
so little time for thought, and remained in such mental unsophistication
as to experience now her first passion.
As Mrs. Laudersdale entered her room again, the opposite door opened and
admitted that individual the selfishness of whose marriage was but half
expiated when he found himself on the surplus side of the world.
In the mean while, Mr. Raleigh was gayly passing the time with Helen
Heath. There were to be some guests from the town that evening, and they
were the topic of her discourse.
"I wonder if we are never to have tea," said she at last, looking at her
"I didn't know you were attached to the custom," said he, indifferently,
as he had said everything else, while intently listening for a footstep.
"Ah! but I like to see other folks take their bitters."
"Do not even the publicans the same?"
"You will become a proficient chemist, converting the substance of my
remarks to airy nothings through your gospel-retorts."
"Oh, I understand your optics as well. You like to see other folks;
taking the bitters is another thing. The tea-bell is a tocsin."
"Pshaw! _You_ don't care to see any one! But shall there be no more
cakes and ale? Haven't you any sympathy for a sweet tooth?"
"None at all."
"Not even in Mrs. Laudersdale's instance?"
"Mrs. Laudersdale has a sweet tooth, then?" Mr. Raleigh asked in return,
as if there were any trivial thing concerning her in which he could yet
"I'm not going to tell you anything about Mrs. Laudersdale."
"There comes that desired object, the tea-tray. It's not to be formal,
then, to-night. That's a blessing! What shall I bring you?" he
continued,--"tea or cocoa?"
"Neither. You may have the tea, and I'll leave the cocoa for Mrs.
"Mrs. Laudersdale drinks cocoa, then?"
"You may bring me some milk and macaroons."
As Mr. Raleigh was about to obey, his little apparition of the wood
suddenly appeared in the doorway, followed by her nurse,--having arisen
from the discipline of bath and brush, fair and spotless as a snowflake.
She flitted by him with a mocking recognition.
"Rite!" cried a voice from above, familiar, but with how strange a tone
in it! "Little Rite!"
"Maman!" cried the sprite, and went dancing up the stairs.
Mr. Raleigh's face, as he turned, darkened with a heavier flush than
half a score of Indian summers branded upon it afterward.
"That is Mrs. Laudersdale's little maid?" asked he, when, after a few
moments, he brought the required salver.
"Yes,--would you ever suspect it?" Numberless as had been the times he
had heard her speak of Rite, he never had suspected it, but had always
at the name pictured some indifferent child, some baby-friend, or cousin
"She is not like her mother," said he, coolly.
"The very antipodes,--all her father.--Bless me! What is this? A real
Laudersdale mess,--custards and cheesecakes,--and I detest them both."
"Blame my unfortunate memory. I thought I had certainly pleased you,
"When you forgot my orders? Well, never mind. Isn't she exquisite?"
"Isn't who exquisite? Oh, the little maid? Quite! Why hasn't she been
here all summer?"
"She was always a sickly, ailing thing, and has been at one of those
rich Westchester farms where health and immortality are made. And now
she is going away to Martinique, where her grandmother will take charge
of her, bottle up those spirits, and make her a second edition of her
mother. By the way, how that mother has effervesced this summer!"
continued Helen, as the detested custard disappeared. "I wonder what
made her. Do you suppose it was because her husband was away?"
At that instant Mrs. Laudersdale came sailing down the stairs.
A week previously, when, to repay the civilities of their friends in
the neighboring city, Mrs. McLean had made a little fancy-party, Helen,
appearing as Champagne, all in rosy gauzes with a veiling foam of
dropping silver lace, had begged Mrs. Laudersdale to give her prominence
by dressing for Port; and accordingly that lady had arrayed herself
in velvet, out of which her shoulders rose like snow, and whose rich
duskiness made her perfect pallor more apparent, while its sumptuous
body of color was sprinkled with glittering crystal drops and
coruscations; and wreathing her forehead with crisp vine-leaves and
tendrils, she had bunched together in intricate splendor all the
amethysts, carbuncles, garnets, and rubies in the house, for
grape-clusters at the ear, till she seemed, with her smile and her
sunshine, the express and incarnate spirit of vintage. To-night,
stripped of its sparkling drops, she wore the same dress, and in her
hair a wreath of fresh white roses. Behind her descended a tall and
stately gentleman. She swept forward. "Mr. Raleigh," she murmured, while
her eyes diffused their gloom and fell, "let me introduce you to my
The blow had come previously. Mr. Raleigh bowed almost to the ground,
without a word, then looked up and offered his hand. Mr. Laudersdale
comprehended the whole matter at a heartbeat, and took it. Then they
moved on toward other friends, whom, while waiting for knowledge of his
wife's return from her walk, Mr. Laudersdale had not seen. Mr. Raleigh
went in search of Capua, and ere long reappeared.
It grew quite dark; the candles were lighted. Rite slipped in, and,
after having flown about like a thistle-down for a while, mounted a
chair and put her arms about her mother's shoulders. Then Mr. Raleigh,
sitting silently on a sofa, attracted her, and shortly afterward she had
curled herself beside him and fallen asleep with her head upon his
knee; otherwise he did not touch her. Mrs. Laudersdale stood by an open
casement; the servant who had carried her note came up the lawn and
spoke to her from without. There was no one in the house, and he had
left it on the library-table. The pressure of those tender little arms
was yet warm about the mother's neck; she glanced sidelong at the
sleeping child. "He shall never see that note!" she murmured, and
slipped through the casement.
Accustomed to all rash and intrepid adventure during this summer, it
was nothing for her to unmoor a boat, enter it, and lift the oars, not
pausing to observe that it was the Arrow. Just then, however, a little
wind ruffled down and shook the sail, a wind not quite favorable, but in
which she could tack across and back; she drew in the oars, put to the
proof all her new boat-craft, and recklessly dashed through the dark
element that curled and seethed about her. She had to make but two tacks
in that hour's impetuous progress, before the house rose, as it had
frequently done before, glooming at but a few rods' distance, and
loading with odorous breath the air that tossed its vines ere stealing
across the lake. She trembled now, and remembered that she alone of all
the party had always unconsciously evaded entering Mr. Raleigh's house,
had never seen the house nearer than now, and never been its guest. It
was entering some dark, unknown place; it was to intrude on a sacred
region. But the breeze hurried her along while she thought, and the next
moment the keel was buried in the sand. There was no time to lose; she
left the boat, ascended a flight of stone steps close at hand, and
was in the garden. Low, ripe greenery was waving over her here, deep
alluring shadows opening around, full fresh fragrance fanning idly to
and fro and stealing her soul away. Beyond, the lake gleamed darkly, the
water lapped gently, the wind sighed and fell like a fluttering breath.
She would have lingered forever,--she dared not linger a moment. She
brushed the dew from the heavy blossoms as she swept on, then the
drenching branches swayed and closed behind her; she found a door ajar,
and hastily entered the first room which appeared.
There were stray starbeams in this apartment; her eyes were accustomed
to the gloom; she could dimly discern the great book-cases lining the
wall,--an antique chair,--the glittering key-board of a grand-piano that
stood apart, yet thrilling perhaps with recent harmonies,--a colossal
head of Antinoues, that self-involved dreamer, stone-entranced in a calm
of passion. She had been feverishly agitated; but as this white silence
dawned upon her, so strong, yet voluptuous, never sad, making in its
masque of marble one intense moment eternal, some of the same power
spread soothingly over her. She paused a moment to gather the thronging
thoughts. How still the room was! she had not known that music was at
his command before. How sweet the air that blew in at the window! what
late flowers bore such pungent balm? That portrait leaning half-startled
from the frame, was it his mother? These books, were they the very ones
that had fed his youth? How everything was yet warm from his touch! how
his presence yet lingered! how much of his life had passed into the dim
beauty of the place! How each fresh waft from the blooms without came
drowned in fine perfume, laden with delicious languor! What heaven was
there! and, ah! what heaven was yet possible there!
Something that had flitted from the table in the draught, and had
hovered here and there along the floor, now lay at her foot; she caught
it absently; it was her letter. To snatch it from its envelope, and so
tear it the more easily to atoms, was her first thought; but as suddenly
she paused. Was it hers? Though written and sealed by her hand, had she
any longer possession therein? Had she more authority over it than over
any other letter that might be in the room? Absurd refinement of honor!
She broke the seal. Yet stay! Was there no justice due to him? That
letter which had been read long before the intended time, whose delivery
any accident might have frustrated, whose writer might have recalled it,
--did it demand no magnanimity of reply on her part? Had he now no claim
to the truth from her? As she knew what he never would have told her an
hour later, had she a right to recede from the position she had taken in
response, simply because she could and he could not? Should she ignobly
refuse him his right?
Whether this were a sophism of sin or the logic of highest virtue, she,
who would have blotted out her writing with her heart's blood, did not
wait to weigh.
"To him, also, I owe a duty!" she exclaimed, dropped the letter where
she had found it, and fled,--fled, hurrying through all the bewildering
garden-walks, down from the fragrance, the serenity, the bowery
seclusion, from all this conspiring loveliness that tempted her to dally
and commanded her to stay,--fled from this dream of passion, this region
of joy,--fled forever, as she thought, out into the wide, chill, lonely
Pushing off the boat and springing in, once more the water curled
beneath the parting prow, and she shot with her flashing sail and
hissing wake heedlessly, like a phantom, past another boat that was
making more slowly in to shore.
"This way, Helen," murmurs a subdued voice. "There are some steps, Mr.
Laudersdale. Here we are; but it's dark as Erebus. Give me your hand;
I'm half afraid; after that spectre that walked the water just now,
these shadows are not altogether agreeable. There's the door,--careful
housekeeper, this Mr. Raleigh! I wonder what McLean would say. Don't
believe he'd like it."
"What made you come, then?" asks Helen, as they step within.
"Oh, just for the frolic; it was getting stupid, too. I suppose we've
ruined our dresses. But there! we must hurry and get back. I didn't
think it would take so long. He can't manage a boat so well as Roger,"
adds Mrs. McLean, in a whisper.
"Goodness!" exclaims Helen. "I can't see an inch of the way. We shall
certainly deal devastation."
"I've been exploring a mantel-shelf; here's a candle, but how to light
it? Haven't you a match, Mr. Laudersdale?"
That gentleman produces one from a little pocket-safe; it proves a
failure,--and so a second, and a third.
"This is the last, Mrs. McLean. Have your candle ready."
The little jet of flame flashes up.
"Quick, Helen! a scrap of paper, quick!"
"I don't know where to find any. Here's a billet on the floor; the
seal's broken; Mr. Raleigh don't read his letters, you know; shall I
"Anything, yes! My fingers are burning! Quick, it's the last match!
Helen waves a tiny flambeau, the candle is lighted, the flame whirled
down upon the hearth and trodden out.
"I wonder what it was, though," adds Mrs. McLean, stooping over it.
"Some of our correspondence. No matter, then. Now for that Indian mail.
Here,--no,--this must be it. 'Mr. Roger Raleigh,'--'Roger Raleigh,
Esq.,'--that's not it. 'Day, Knight, & Co., for Roger Raleigh.' Why, Mr.
Laudersdale, that's your firm. Aren't you the Co. there? Ah, here it is,
--'Mrs. Catherine McLean, care of Mr. Roger Raleigh.' Doesn't that look
handsomely, Helen?" contemplating it with newly married satisfaction.
"Now you have it, come!" urges Helen.
"No, indeed! I must find that Turkish tobacco, to reward Mr. Laudersdale
for his heroic exertions in our behalf."
Mr. Laudersdale, somewhat fastidious and given to rigid etiquette, looks
as if the exertions would be best rewarded by haste. Mrs. McLean takes
the candle in hand and proceeds on a tour of the apartment.
"There! isn't this the article? John says it's pitiful stuff, not to be
compared with Virginia leaf. Look at this meerschaum, Mr. Laudersdale;
there's an ensample. Prettily colored, is it not?"
"Now are you coming?" asks Helen.
"Would you? We've never been here without my worshipful cousin before; I
should like to investigate his domestic arrangements. Needle and thread.
Now what do you suppose he is doing with needle and thread? Oh,
it's that little lacework that Mrs.----Sketches! I wonder whom he's
sketching. You, Helen? Me? Upside down, of course. No, it's----Yes, we
may as well go. Come!"
And in the same breath Mrs. McLean blows out the candle and precedes
them. Mr. Laudersdale scorns to secure the sketch; and holding back
the boughs for Miss Heath, and assisting her down the steps, quietly
Meantime, Mrs. Laudersdale has reached her point of departure again, has
stolen up out of the white fog now gathering over the lake, slipped into
her former place, and found all nearly as before. The candles had been
taken away, so that light came merely from the hall and doorways.
Some of the guests were in the brilliant dining-room, some in the
back-parlor. Mr. Raleigh, while Fate was thus busying herself about him,
still sat motionless, one hand upon the sofa's side, one on the back,
little Rite still sleeping on his knee. Capua came and exchanged a
few words with his master; then the colored nurse stepped through the
groups, sought the child, and carried her away, head and arms hanging
heavy with slumber. Still Mr. Raleigh did not move. Mrs. Laudersdale
stood in the window, vivid and glowing. There were no others in the
"Where is Mrs. McLean?" asked Mary Purcell at the door, after the
charade in which she had been engaged was concluded.
"Gone across the lake with Nell and Mr. Laudersdale for a letter,"
replied Master Fred Heath, who had returned that afternoon from the
counting-room, with his employer, and now sauntered by.
Mrs. Laudersdale started; she had not escaped too early; but then----Her
heart was beating in her throat.
"What letter?" asked Mrs. Heath, with amiable curiosity, as she joined
"Do you know what letter, Mr. Raleigh?"
"One from India, Madame," was his response.
"Strange! Helen gone without permission! What was in the letter, I
wonder. Do you know what was in the letter, Mr. Raleigh?"
"Congratulations, and a recommendation of Mrs. McLean's cousin to her
good graces," he said.
"Oh, it was not Helen's, then?"
"My young gentleman's not in good humor to-night," whispered Mrs. Heath
to Miss Purcell, with a significant nod, and moving off.
"How did you know what was in Mrs. McLean's letter, Sir?" asked Mary
"I conjectured. In Mrs. Heath's place, I should have known."
"There they come!--you can always tell Mrs. McLean's laugh. You've lost
all the charades, Helen!"
They came in, very gay, and seemed at once to arouse an airier and finer
spirit among the humming clusters. Mr. Laudersdale did not join his
wife, but sat on the piazza talking with Mr. McLean. People were looking
at an herbal, others coquetting, others quiet. Some one mentioned music.
Directly afterward, Mr. Raleigh rose and approached the piano. Every
one turned. Taking his seat, he threw out a handful of rich chords; the
instrument seemed to diffuse a purple cloud; then, buoyed over perfect
accompaniment, the voice rose in that one love-song of the world. What
depth of tenderness is there from which the "Adelaide" does not sound?
What secret of tragedy, too? Singing, he throbbed through it a vitality
as if the melody surcharged with beauty grew from his soul, and were his
breath of life, indeed. The thrilling strain came to penetrate and
fill one heart; the passionate despair surged round her; the silence
following was like the hand that closes the eyes of the dead.
Mr. Raleigh did not rise, nor look up, as he finished.
"How melancholy!" said Helen Heath, breaking the hush.
"All music should be melancholy," said he.
"How absurd, Roger!" said his cousin. "There is much music that is only
"Intense beauty at its height always drops in pathos, or rather the soul
does in following it,--since that is infinite, the soul finite."
"Nonsense! There's that song, Number Three in Book One"----
"I don't remember it."
"Well, there's no pathos there! It's just one trill of laughter and
merriment, a sunbeam and effect. Play it, Helen."
Helen went, and, extending her hands before Mr. Raleigh, played a couple
of bars; he continued where she left it, as one might a dream, and,
strangely enough, the little, gushing sparkle of joy became a phantom of
itself, dissolving away in tears.
"Oh, of course," said Mrs. McLean, "you can make mouths in a glass,
if you please; but I, for one, detest melancholy! Don't you, Mrs.
Mrs. Laudersdale had shrunk into the shadow of the curtain. Perhaps she
did not hear the question; for her reply, that did not come at once, was
the fragment of a Provencal romance, sung,--and sung in a voice neither
sweet nor rich, but of a certain personal force as potent as either, and
a stifled strength of tone that made one tremble.
"We're all alone, we're all alone!
The moon and stars are dead and gone,
The night's at deep, the winds asleep,
And thou and I are all alone!
"What care have we, though life there be?
Tumult and life are not for me!
Silence and sleep about us creep:
Tumult and life are not for thee!
"How late it is since such as this
Had topped the height of breathing bliss!
And now we keep an iron sleep,--
In that grave thou, and I in this!"
Her voice yet shivered through the room, he struck a chord of dead
conclusion, the curtain stirred, she emerged from the gloom and was
Mr. Raleigh rose and bade his cousin good-night. Mrs. McLean, however,
took his arm and sauntered with him down the lawn.
"I thought Capua came with you," she remarked.
"He returned in a spare wherry, some time since," he replied; and
thereon they made a few paces in silence.
"Roger," said the little lady, taking breath preparatory to wasting it,
"I thought Helen was a coquette. I've changed my mind. The fault is