Part 1 out of 5
THE ATLANTIC MONTHLY.
A MAGAZINE OF LITERATURE, ART, AND POLITICS.
VOL. VII.--JANUARY, 1861.--NO. XXXIX.
Washington is the paradise of paradoxes,--a city of magnificent
distances, but of still more magnificent discrepancies. Anything may be
affirmed of it, everything denied. What it seems to be it is not; and
although it is getting to be what it never was, it must always remain
what it now is. It might be called a city, if it were not alternately
populous and uninhabited; and it would be a wide-spread village, if it
were not a collection of hospitals for decayed or callow politicians. It
is the hybernating-place of fashion, of intelligence, of vice,--a resort
without the attractions of waters either mineral or salt, where there is
no bathing and no springs, but drinking in abundance and gambling in
any quantity. Defenceless, as regards walls, redoubts, moats, or other
fortifications, it is nevertheless the Sevastopol of the Republic,
against which the allied army of Contractors and Claim-Agents
incessantly lay siege. It is a great, little, splendid, mean,
extravagant, poverty-stricken barrack for soldiers of fortune and
votaries of folly.
Scattered helter-skelter over an immense surface, cut up into scalene
triangles, the oddity of its plan makes Washington a succession of
surprises which never fail to vex and astonish the stranger, be he ever
so highly endowed as to the phrenological bump of locality. Depending
upon the hap-hazard start the ignoramus may chance to make, any
particular house or street is either nearer at hand or farther off than
the ordinary human mind finds it agreeable to believe. The first duty of
the new-comer is to teach his nether extremities to avoid instinctively
the hypothenuse of the street-triangulation, and the last lesson the
resident fails to learn is which of the shortcuts from point to point
is the least lengthy. Beyond a doubt, the corners of the streets were
constructed upon a cold and brutal calculation of the greatest possible
amount of oral sin which disappointed haste and irritated anxiety are
capable of committing; nor is any relief to the tendency to profanity
thus engendered afforded by the inexcusable nomenclature of the streets
and avenues,--a nomenclature in which the resources of the alphabet, the
arithmetic, the names of all the States of the Union, and the Presidents
as well, are exhausted with the most unsystematic profligacy. A man not
gifted with supernatural acuteness, in striving to get from Brown's
Hotel to the General Post-Office, turns a corner and suddenly finds
himself nowhere, simply because he is everywhere,--being at the instant
upon three separate streets and two distinct avenues. And, as a further
consequence of the scalene arrangement of things, it happens that the
stranger in Washington, however civic his birth and education may have
been, is always unconsciously performing those military evolutions
styled marching to the right or left oblique,--acquiring thereby, it is
said, that obliquity of the moral vision--which sooner or later afflicts
every human being who inhabits this strange, lop-sided city-village.
So queer, indeed, is Washington City in every aspect, that one
newly impressed by its incongruities is compelled to regard Swift's
description of Lilliputia and Sydney Smith's account of Australia as
poor attempts at fun. For, leaving out of view the pigmies of the former
place, whose like we know is never found in Congress, what is there in
that Australian bird with the voice of a jackass to excite the feeblest
interest in the mind of a man who has listened to the debates on Kansas?
or what marvel is an amphibian with the bill of a duck to him who has
gazed aghast at the intricate anatomy of the bill of English? It is true
that the ignorant Antipodes, with a total disregard of all theories of
projectiles, throw their boomerangs behind their backs in order to kill
an animal that stands or runs before their faces, or skim them along
the ground when they would destroy an object flying overhead. And these
feats seem curious. But an accomplished "Constitutional Adviser" can
perform feats far more surprising with a few lumps of coal or a number
of ships-knees, which are but boomerangs of a larger growth. Another has
invented the deadliest of political missiles, (in their recoil,) shaped
like mules and dismantled forts, while a third has demolished the
Treasury with a simple miscalculation. Still more astonishing are the
performances of an eminent functionary who encourages polygamy by
intimidation, purchases redress for national insult by intercepting his
armies and fleets with an apology in the mouth of a Commissioner, and
elevates the Republic in the eyes of mankind by conquering at Ostend
even less than he has lost at the Executive Mansion.
In truth, the list of Washington anomalies is so extensive and so
various, that no writer with a proper regard for his own reputation or
his readers' credulity would dare enumerate them one by one. Without
material injury to the common understanding, a few may be mentioned; but
respect for public opinion would urge that the enormous whole be summed
up in the comparatively safe and respectful assertion, that the one only
absolutely certain thing in Washington is the absence of everything
that is at all permanent. The following are some of the more obnoxious
astonishments of the place.
Traversing a rocky prairie inflated with hacks, you arrive late in the
afternoon at a curbed boundary, too fatigued in body and too suffocated
with dust to resent the insult to your common-sense implied in the
announcement that you have merely crossed what is called an Avenue.
Recovered from your fatigue, you ascend the steps of a marble palace,
and enter but to find it garrisoned by shabby regiments armed with
quills and steel pens. The cells they inhabit are gloomy as dungeons,
but furnished like parlors. Their business is to keep everybody's
accounts but their own. They are of all ages, but of a uniformly
dejected aspect. Do not underrate their value. Mr. Bulwer has said,
that, in the hands of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the
sword. Suffer yourself to be astonished at their numbers, but permit
yourself to withdraw from their vicinity without questioning too closely
their present utility or future destination. No personal affront to the
public or the nineteenth century is intended by the superfluity of their
numbers or the inadequacy of their capacities. Their rapid increase is
attributable not to any incestuous breeding in-and-in among themselves,
but to a violent seduction of the President and the Heads of Department
by importunate Congressmen; and you may rest assured that this criminal
multiplication fills nobody with half so much righteous indignation and
virtuous sorrow as the clerks themselves. Emerging from the palace of
quill-drivers, a new surprise awaits you. The palace is surmounted by
what appear to be gigantic masts and booms, economically, but strongly
rigged, and without any sails. In the distance, you see other palaces
rigged in the same manner. The effect of this spectacle is painful in
the extreme. Standing dry-shod as the Israelites were while crossing the
Red Sea, you nevertheless seem to be in the midst of a small fleet of
unaccountable sloops of the Saurian period. You question whether these
are not the fabulous "Ships of State" so often mentioned in the elegant
oratory of your country. You observe that these ships are anchored in an
ocean of pavement, and your no longer trustworthy eyes search vainly
for their helms. The nearest approach to a rudder is a chimney or an
unfinished pillar; the closest resemblance to a pilot is a hod-carrying
workman clambering up a gangway. Dismissing the nautical hypothesis,
your next effort to relieve your perplexity results in the conjecture
that the prodigious masts and booms may be nothing more than curious
gibbets, the cross-pieces to which, conforming rigidly to the Washington
rule of contrariety, are fastened to the bottom instead of the top of
the upright. Your theory is, that the destinies of the nation are to be
hanged on these monstrous gibbets, and you wonder whether the laws of
gravitation will be complaisant enough to turn upside down for the
accommodation of the hangman, whoever he may be. It is not without
pain that you are forced at last to the commonplace belief that these
remarkable mountings of the Public Buildings are neither masts nor
booms, but simply derricks,--mechanical contrivances for the lifting of
very heavy weights. It is some consolation, however, to be told that
the weakness of these derricks has never been proved by the endeavor
to elevate by means of them the moral character of the inhabitants of
Washington. Content yourself, after a reasonable delay for natural
wonderment, to leave the strange scene. This shipping-like aspect of the
incomplete Departments is only a nice architectural tribute to the fact
that the population of Washington is a floating population. This you
will not be long in finding out. The oldest inhabitants are here to-day
and gone tomorrow, as punctually, if not as poetically, as the Arabs of
Mr. Longfellow. A few remain,--parasitic growths, clinging tenaciously
to the old haunts. Like tartar on the teeth, they are proof against the
hardest rubs of the tooth-brush of Fortune.
As with the people, so with the houses. Though they retain their
positions, seldom abandoning the ground on which they were originally
built, they change almost hourly their appearance and their
uses,--insomuch that the very solids of the city seem fluid, and even
the stables are mutable,--the horse-house of last week being an office
for the sale of patents, or periodicals, or lottery-tickets, this week,
with every probability of becoming an oyster-cellar, a billiard-saloon,
a cigar-store, a barber's shop, a bar-room, or a faro-bank, next week.
And here is another astonishment. You will observe that the palatial
museums for the temporary preservation of fossil or fungous penmen join
walls, virtually, with habitations whose architecture would reflect
no credit on the most curious hamlet in tide-water Virginia. To your
amazement, you learn that all these houses, thousands in number, are
boarding-houses. Of course, where everybody is a stranger, nobody
keeps house. It would be pardonable to suppose, that, out of so many
boarding-houses, some would be in reality what they are in name. Nothing
can be farther from the fact. These houses contain apartments more or
less cheerless and badly furnished, according to the price (always
exorbitant, however small it may be) demanded for them, and are devoted
exclusively to the storage of empty bottles and demijohns, to large
boxes of vegetable- and flower-seeds, to great piles of books, speeches,
and documents not yet directed to people who will never read them, and
to an abominable odor of boiling cabbages. This odor steals in from
a number of pitch-dark tunnels and shafts, misnamed passages and
staircases, in which there are more books, documents, and speeches,
other boxes of seeds, and a still stronger odor of cabbages. The piles
of books are traps set here for the benefit of the setters of broken
legs and the patchers of skinless shins, and the noisome odors are
propagated for the advantage of gentlemen who treat diseases of the
larynx and lungs.
It would appear, then, that the so-called boarding-houses are, in point
of fact, private gift-book stores, or rather, commission-houses for the
receiving and forwarding of a profusion of undesirable documents and
vegetations. You may view them also in the light of establishments for
the manufacture and distribution of domestic perfumery, payment for
which is never exacted at the moment of its involuntary purchase, but is
left to be collected by a doctor,--who calls upon you during the winter,
levies on you with a lancet, and distrains upon your viscera with a
compound cathartic pill.
It is claimed, that, in addition to the victims who pay egregious rents
for boarding-house beds in order that they may have a place to store
their documents and demi-johns, there are other permanent occupants of
these houses. As, for example, Irish chambermaids, who subtract a few
moments from the morning half-hour given to drinking the remnants of
your whiskey, and devote them to cleaning up your room. Also a very
strange being, peculiar to Washington boarding-houses, who is never
visible at any time, and is only heard stumbling up-stairs about four
o'clock in the morning. Also beldames of incalculable antiquity,--a
regular allowance of one to each boarding-house,--who flit noiselessly
and unceasingly about the passages and up and down the stairways,
admonishing you of their presence by a ghostly sniffle, which always
frightens you, and prevents you from running into them and knocking them
down. For these people, it is believed, a table is set in the houses
where the boarders proper flatter their acquaintances that they sleep.
It must be so, for the entire male population is constantly eating in
the oyster-cellars. Indeed, if ocular evidence may be relied on, the
best energies of the metropolis are given to the incessant consumption
of "half a dozen raw," or "four fried and a glass of ale." The bar-rooms
and eating-houses are always full or in the act of becoming full. By a
fatality so unerring that it has ceased to be wonderful, it happens that
you can never enter a Washington restaurant and find it partially empty,
without being instantly followed by a dozen or two of bipeds as hungry
and thirsty as yourself, who crowd up to the bar and destroy half the
comfort you derive from your lunch or your toddy.
But, although, everybody is forever eating oysters and drinking ale in
myriads of subterranean holes and corners, nobody fails to eat at other
places more surprising and original than any you have yet seen. In all
other cities, people eat at home or at a hotel or an eating-house; in
Washington they eat at bank. But they do not eat money,--at least, not
in the form of bullion, or specie, or notes. These Washington banks,
unlike those of London, Paris, and New York, are open mainly at night
and all night long, are situated invariably in the second story, guarded
as jealously as any seraglio, and admit nobody but strangers,--that is
to say, everybody in Washington. This is singular. Still more singular
is the fact, that the best food, served in the most exquisite manner,
and (with sometimes a slight variation) the choicest wines and cigars,
may be had at these banks free of cost, except to those who choose
voluntarily to remunerate the banker by purchasing a commodity as costly
and almost as worthless as the articles sold at ladies' fairs,--upon
which principle, indeed, the Washington banks are conducted. The
commodity alluded to is in the form of small discs of ivory, called
"chips" or "cheeks" or "shad" or "skad," and the price varies from
twenty-five cents to a hundred dollars per "skad."
It is expected that every person who opens an account at bank by eating
a supper there shall buy a number of "shad," but not with the view of
taking them home to show to his wife and children. Yet it is not an
uncommon thing for persons of a stingy and ungrateful disposition to
spend most of their time in these benevolent institutions without ever
spending so much as a dollar for "shad," but eating, drinking, and
smoking, and particularly drinking, to the best of their ability. This
reprehensible practice is known familiarly in Washington as "bucking
ag'inst the sideboard," and is thought by some to be the safest mode of
doing business at bank.
The presiding officer is never called President. He is called
"Dealer,"--perhaps from the circumstance of his dealing in ivory,--and
is not looked up to and worshipped as the influential man of
banking-houses is generally. On. the contrary, he is for the most part
condemned by his best customers, whose heart's desire and prayer are to
break his bank and ruin him utterly.
Seeing the multitude of boarding-houses, oyster-cellars, and
ivory-banks, you may suppose there are no hotels in Washington. You are
mistaken. There are plenty of hotels, many of them got up on the scale
of magnificent distances that prevails everywhere, and somewhat on the
maritime plan of the Departments. Outwardly, they look like colossal
docks, erected for the benefit of hacks, large fleets of which you will
always find moored under their lee, safe from the monsoon that prevails
on the open sea of the Avenue. Inwardly, they are labyrinths, through
whose gloomy mazes it is impossible to thread your way without the
assistance of an Ariadne's clue in the shape of an Irishman panting
under a trunk. So obscure and involved are the hotel-interiors, that it
would be madness for a stranger to venture in search of his room without
the guidance of some one far more familiar with the devious course of
the narrow clearings through the forest of apartments than the landlord
himself. Now and then a reckless and adventurous proprietor undertakes
to make a day's journey alone through his establishment. He is never
heard of afterwards,--or, if found, is discovered in a remote angle or
loft, in a state of insensibility from bewilderment and starvation.
If it were not for an occasional negro, who, instigated by charitable
motives or love of money, slouches about from room to room with an empty
coal-scuttle as an excuse for his intrusions, a gentleman stopping at a
Washington hotel would be doomed to certain death. In fact, the lives of
all the guests hang upon a thread, or rather, a wire; for, if the bell
should fail to answer, there would be no earthly chance of getting into
daylight again. It is but reasonable to suppose that the wires to many
rooms have been broken in times past, and it is well known in Washington
that these rooms are now tenanted by skeletons of hapless travellers
whose relatives and friends never doubted that they had been kidnapped
or had gone down in the Arctic.
The differential calculus by which all Washington is computed obtains at
the hotels as elsewhere, with this peculiarity,--that the differences
are infinitely great, instead of infinitely small. While the fronts are
very fine, showy, and youthful as the Lecompton Constitution, the rears
are coarse, common, and old as the Missouri Compromise. The furniture in
the rooms that look upon Pennsylvania Avenue is as fresh as the dogma
of Squatter Sovereignty; that in all other rooms dates back to the
Ordinance of '87. Some of the apartments exhibit a glaring splendor; the
rest show beds, bureaus, and washstands which hard and long usage has
polished to a sort of newness. Specimens of ancient pottery found on
these washstands are now in the British Museum, and are reckoned among
the finest of Layard's collections at Nineveh.
The dining rooms are admirable examples of magnificent distance. The
room is long, the tables are long, the kitchen is a long way off, and
the waiters a long time going and coming. The meals are long,--so
long that there is literally no end to them; they are eternal. It is
customary to mark certain points in the endless route of appetite with
mile-stones named breakfast, dinner, and supper; but these points have
no more positive existence than the imaginary lines and angles of the
geometrician. Breakfast runs entirely through dinner into supper, and
dinner ends with coffee, the beginning of breakfast. Estimating the
duration of dinner by the speed of an ordinary railroad-train, it is
twenty miles from soup to fish, and fifty from turkey to nuts. But
distance, however magnificent, does not lend enchantment to a meal. The
wonder is that the knives and forks are not made to correspond in length
with the repasts,--in which case the latter would be pitchforks, and the
former John-Brown pikes.
The people of Washington are as various, mixed, dissimilar, and
contrasted as the edifices they inhabit. Within the like area, which is
by no means a small one, the same number of dignitaries can be found
nowhere else on the face of the globe,--nor so many characters of
doubtful reputation. If the beggars of Dublin, the cripples of
Constantinople, and the lepers of Damascus should assemble in
Baden-Baden during a Congress of Kings, then Baden-Baden would resemble
Washington. Presidents, Senators, Honorables, Judges, Generals,
Commodores, Governors, and the Ex's of all these, congregate here as
thick as pick-pockets at a horse-race or women at a wedding in church.
Add Ambassadors, Plenipotentiaries, Lords, Counts, Barons, Chevaliers,
the great and small fry of the Legations, Captains, Lieutenants,
Claim-Agents, Negroes, Perpetual-Motion-Men, Fire-Eaters, Irishmen,
Plug-Uglies, Hoosiers, Gamblers, Californians, Mexicans, Japanese,
Indians, and Organ-Grinders, together with females to match all
varieties of males, and you have vague notion of the people of
It is an axiom in physics, that a part cannot be greater than the whole;
and it will be recollected, that, after Epistemon had his head sewed on,
he related a tough story about the occupations of the mighty dead, and
swore, that, in the course of his wanderings among the damned, he found
Cicero kindling fires, Hannibal selling egg-shells, and Julius Caesar
cleaning stoves. The story holds good in regard to the mighty personages
in Washington, but the axiom does not. Men whose fame fills the
land, when they are at home or spouting about the country, sink into
insignificance when they get to Washington. The sun is but a small
potato in the midst of the countless systems of the sidereal heavens.
In like manner, the majestic orbs of the political firmament undergo
a cruel lessening of diameter as they approach the Federal City. The
greatest of men ceases to be great in the presence of hundreds of his
peers, and the multitude of the illustrious dwindle into individual
littleness by reason of their superabundance. And when it comes to
occupations, it will hardly be denied that the stranger who beholds a
Senator "coppering on the ace," or a Congressman standing in a bar-room
with a lump of mouldy cheese in one hand and a glass of "pony whiskey"
in the other, or a Judge of the Supreme Court wriggling an ugly woman
through the ridiculous movements of the polka in a hotel-parlor, must
experience sensations quite as confounding as any Epistemon felt in
In spite of numberless receptions, levees, balls, hops, parties,
dinners, and other reunions, there is, properly speaking, no society in
Washington. Circles are said to exist, but, like that in the vortex of
the whirlpool, they are incessantly changing. Divisions purely arbitrary
may be made in any community. Hence the circles of Washington society
may be represented sciagraphically in the following diagram.
The Circle of the Mudsill includes Negroes, Clerks, Irish Laborers,
Patent and other Agents, Hackmen, Faro-Dealers, Washerwomen, and
Newspaper-Correspondents. In the Hotel Circle, the Newest Strangers,
Harpists, Members of Congress, Concertina-Men, Provincial Judges,
Card-Writers, College-Students, Unprotected Females, "Star" and "States"
Boys, Stool-Pigeons, Contractors, Sellers of Toothpicks, and Beau
Hickman, are found. The Circle of the White House embraces the
President, the Cabinet, the Chiefs of Bureaus, the Embassies, Corcoran
and Riggs, formerly Mr. Forney, and until recently George Sanders and
Isaiah Rynders. The little innermost circle is intended to represent a
select body of residents, intense exclusives, who keep aloof from the
other circles and hold them all in equal contempt. This circle is known
only by report; in all probability it is a myth. It is worthy of remark
that the circles of the White House and the Hotels rise higher and sink
lower than that of the Mudsill, but whether this is a fact or a mere
necessity of the diagram is not known.
Society, such as it is, in the metropolis, is indulgent to itself. It
intermeddles not, asks no impertinent questions, and transacts
its little affairs in perfect peace and quietude. Vigilant as the
Inquisition in matters political, it is deaf and blind, but not dumb, as
to all others. It dresses as it pleases, drinks as much as it chooses,
eats indiscriminately, sleeps promiscuously, gets up at all hours of
the day, and does as little work as possible. Its only trouble is that
"incomparable grief" to which Panurge was subject, and "which at that
time they called lack of money." In truth, the normal condition of
Washington society is, to use a vernacular term, "busted." It is not an
isolated complaint. Everybody is "busted." No matter what may be the
state of a man's funds when he gets to Washington, no matter how long he
stays or how soon he leaves, to this "busted" complexion must he come at
last. He is in Rome; he must take the consequences. Shall he insult the
whole city with his solvency? Certainly not. He abandons his purse and
his conscience to the madness of the hour, and, in generous emulation of
the prevailing recklessness and immorality, dismisses every scruple and
squanders his last cent. Then, and not till then, does he feel himself
truly a Washington-man, able to look anybody in the face with the serene
pride of an equal, and without the mortification of being accused or
even suspected of having in all the earth a dollar that he can call his
Where morals are loose, piety is seldom in excess. But there are a
half-dozen of churches in Washington, besides preaching every Sunday
in the House of Representatives. The relative size and cost of the
churches, as compared with the Public Buildings, indicates the true
object of worship in Washington. Strange to say, the theatre is smaller
than the churches. Clerical and dramatic entertainments cannot compete
with the superior attractions of the daily rows in Congress and the
nightly orgies at the faro-banks. Heaven is regarded as another
Chihuahua or Sonora, occupied at present by unfriendly Camanches, but
destined to be annexed some day. In the mean time, a very important
election is to come off in Connecticut or Pennsylvania. That must be
attended to immediately. Such is piety in Washington.
The list of the unique prodigies of Washington is without limit. But
marvels heaped together cease to be marvellous, and of all places in
the world a museum is the most tiresome. So, amid the whirl and roar
of winter-life in Washington, when one has no time to read, write, or
think, and scarcely time to eat, drink, and sleep, when the days fly by
like hours, and the brain reels under the excitement of the protracted
debauch, life becomes an intolerable bore. Yet the place has an intense
fascination for those who suffer most acutely from the _tedium vitae_ to
which every one is more or less a prey; and men and women who have lived
in Washington are seldom contented elsewhere. The moths return to the
flaming candle until they are consumed.
In conclusion, it must be admitted that Washington is the Elysium of
oddities, the Limbo of absurdities, an imbroglio of ludicrous anomalies.
Planned on a scale of surpassing grandeur, its architectural execution
is almost contemptible. Blessed with the name of the purest of men, it
has the reputation of Sodom. The seat of the law-making power, it is the
centre of violence and disorder which disturb the peace and harmony
of the whole Republic,--the chosen resort for duelling, clandestine
marriages, and the most stupendous thefts. It is a city without commerce
and without manufactures; or rather, its commerce is illicit, and its
manufacturers are newspaper-correspondents, who weave tissues of fiction
out of the warp of rumor and the web of prevarication. The site of the
United States Treasury, it is the home of everything but affluence. Its
public buildings are splendid, its private dwellings generally squalid.
The houses are low, the rents high; the streets are broad, the crossings
narrow; the hacks are black, the horses white; the squares are
triangles, except that of the Capitol, which is oval; and the water is
so soft that it is hard to drink it, even with the admixture of alcohol.
It has a Monument that will never be finished, a Capitol that is to have
a dome, a Scientific Institute which does nothing but report the rise
and fall of the thermometer, and two pieces of Equestrian Statuary
which it would be a waste of time to criticize. It boasts a streamlet
dignified with the name of the river Tiber, and this streamlet is of the
size and much the appearance of a vein in a dirty man's arm. It has a
canal, but the canal is a mud-puddle during one half the day and an
empty ditch during the other. In spite of the labors of the Smithsonian
Institute, it has no particular weather. It has the climates of all
parts of the habitable globe. It rains, hails, snows, blows, freezes,
and melts in Washington, all in the space of twenty-four hours. After a
fortnight of steady rain, the sun shines out, and in half an hour the
streets are filled with clouds of dust. Property in Washington is
exceedingly sensitive, the people alarmingly callous. The men are
fine-looking, the women homely. The latter have plain faces, but
magnificent busts and graceful figures. The former have an imposing
presence and an empty pocket, a great name and a small conscience.
Notwithstanding all these impediments and disadvantages, Washington
is progressing rapidly. It is fast becoming a large city, but it must
always remain a deserted village in the summer. Its destiny is that of
the Union. It will be the greatest capital the world ever saw, or
it will be "a parched place in the wilderness, a salt land and not
inhabited," and "every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and
wag his head."
MIDSUMMER AND MAY.
Spring at last stole placidly into summer, and Marguerite, who was
always shivering in the house, kept the company in a whirl of out-door
"We have not lived so, Roger," said Mrs. McLean, "since the summer when
you went away. We all follow the caprice of this child as a ship follows
the little compass-needle."
And she made room for the child beside her in the carriage; for Mr.
Raleigh was about driving them into town,--an exercise which had its
particular charm for Marguerite, not only for the glimpse it afforded of
the gay, bustling inland-city-life, but for opportunities of securing
the reins and of occasioning panics. Lately, however, she had resigned
the latter pleasure, and sat with quiet propriety by Mrs. McLean.
Frequently, also, she took long drives alone or with one of the
children, holding the reins listlessly, and ranging the highway
unobservantly for miles around.
Mrs. Purcell declared the girl was homesick; Mrs. Heath doubted if
the climate agreed with her: she neither denied nor affirmed their
Mr. Heath came and went from the city where her father was, without
receiving any other notice than she would have bestowed on a peaceful
walking-stick; his attentions to her during his visits were unequivocal;
she accepted them as nonchalantly as from a waiter at table. On the
occasion of his last stay, there had been a somewhat noticeable change
in his demeanor: he wore a trifle of quite novel assurance; his supreme
bearing was not mitigated by the restless sparkle of his eye; and in
addressing her his compliments, he spoke as one having authority.
Mrs. Laudersdale, so long and so entirely accustomed to the reception
of homage that it cost her no more reflection than an imperial princess
bestows on the taxes that produce her tiara, turned slowly from the
apparent apathy thus induced on her modes of thought, passivity lost in
a gulf of anxious speculation, while she watched the theatre of events
with a glow, like wine in lamplight, that burned behind her dusky eyes
till they had the steady penetration of some wild creature's. She may
have wondered if Mr. Raleigh's former feeling were yet alive; she may
have wondered if Marguerite had found the spell that once she found,
herself; she may have been kept in thrall by ignorance if he had ever
read that old confessing note of hers: whatever she thought or hoped or
dreaded, she said nothing, and did nothing.
Of all those who concerned themselves in the affair of Marguerite's
health and spirits, Mr. Raleigh was the only one who might have solved
their mystery. Perhaps the thought of wooing the child whose mother
he had once loved was sufficiently repugnant to him to overcome the
tenderness which every one was forced to feel for so beautiful a
creation. I have not said that Marguerite was this, before, because,
until brought into contrast with her mother, her extreme loveliness was
too little positive to be felt; now it was the evanescent shimmer of
pearl to the deep perpetual fire of the carbuncle. Softened, as she
became, from her versatile cheeriness, she moved round like a moonbeam,
and frequently had a bewildered grace, as if she knew not what to make
of herself. Mr. Raleigh, from the moment in which he perceived that she
no longer sought his company, retreated into his own apartments, and was
less seen by the others than ever.
Returning from the drive on the morning of Mrs. McLean's last recorded
remark, Mr. Raleigh, who had remained to give the horses in charge to a
servant, was about to pass, when the _tableau_ within the drawing-room
caught his attention and altered his course. He entered, and flung his
gloves down on a table, and threw himself on the floor beside Marguerite
and the children. She appeared to be revisited by a ray of her old
sunshine, and had unrolled a giant parcel of candied sweets, which their
mother would have sacrificed on the shrine of jalap and senna, the
purchase of a surreptitious moment, and was now dispensing the brilliant
comestibles with much ill-subdued glee. One mouth, that had bitten off
the head of a checkerberry chanticleer, was convulsed with the
acidulous tickling of sweetened laughter, till the biter was bit and a
metamorphosis into the animal of attack seemed imminent; at the hands of
another a warrior in barley-sugar was experiencing the vernacular for
defeat with reproving haste and gravity; and there was yet another
little omnivorous creature that put out both hands for indiscriminate
snatching, and made a spectacle of himself in a general plaster of
gum-arabic-drop and brandy-smash.
"Contraband?" said Mr. Raleigh.
"And sweet as stolen fruit," said Marguerite. "Ursule makes the
richest comfits, but not so innumerable as these. Mamma and I owe our
sweet-tooth and honey-lip to bits of her concoction."
"Mrs. Purcell," asked Mr. Raleigh, as that lady entered, "is this little
banquet no seduction to you?"
"What are you doing?" she replied.
"Drinking honey-dew from acorns."
"Laudersdale as ever!" ejaculated she, looking over his shoulder. "I
thought you had 'no sympathy with'"----
"But I 'like to see other folks take'"----
"Their sweets, in this case. No, thank you," she continued, after this
little rehearsal of the past. "What are you poisoning all this brood
"Mrs. Laudersdale eats sweetmeats; they don't poison her," remonstrated
"Mrs. Laudersdale, my dear, is exceptional."
Katy opened her eyes, as if she had been told that the object of her
adoration was Japanese.
"It is the last grain that completes the transformation, as your
story-books have told; and one day you will see her stand, a statue
of sugar, and melt away in the sun. To be sure, the whole air will be
sweetened, but there will be no Mrs. Laudersdale."
"For shame, Mrs. Purcell!" cried Marguerite. "You're not sweet-tempered,
or you'd like sweet dainties yourself. Here are nuts swathed in syrup;
you'll have none of them? Here are health and slumber and idle dreams
in a chocolate-drop. Not a chocolate? Here are dates; if you wouldn't
choose the things in themselves, truly you would for their associations?
See, when you take up one, what a picture follows it: the plum that has
swung at the top of a palm and crowded into itself the glow of those
fierce noon-suns; it has been tossed by the sirocco, it has been steeped
in reeking dew; there was always stretched above it the blue intense
tent of a heaven full of light,--always below and around, long level
reaches of hot shining sand; the phantoms of waning desert moons have
hovered over it, swarthy Arab chiefs have encamped under it; it
has threaded the narrow streets of Damascus--that city the most
beautiful--on the backs of gaunt gray dromedaries; it has crossed the
seas,--and all for you, if you take it, this product of desert freedom,
torrid winds, and fervid suns!"
"I might swallow the date," said Mrs. Purcell, "but Africa would choke
Mr. Raleigh had remained silent for some time, watching Marguerite as
she talked. It seemed to him that his youth was returning; he forgot his
resolves, his desires, and became aware of nothing in the world but her
voice. Just before she concluded, she grew conscious of his gaze, and
almost at once ceased speaking; her eyes fell a moment to meet it, and
then she would have flashed them aside, but that it was impossible;
lucid lakes of light, they met his own; she was forced to continue it,
to return it, to forget all, as he was forgetting, in that long look.
"What is this?" said Mrs. Purcell, stooping to pick up a trifle on the
"_C'est a moi!_" cried Marguerite, springing up suddenly, and spilling
all the fragments of the feast, to the evident satisfaction of the
lately neglected guests.
"Yours?" said Mrs. Purcell with coolness, still retaining it. "Why do
you think in French?"
"Because I choose!" said Marguerite, angrily. "I mean--How do you know
that I do?"
"Your exclamation, when highly excited or contemptuously indifferent, is
always in that tongue."
"Which am I now?"
"Really, you should know best. Here is your bawble"; and Mrs. Purcell
tossed it lightly into her hands, and went out.
It was a sheath of old morocco. The motion loosened the clasp, and the
contents, an ivory oval and a cushion of faded silk, fell to the floor.
Mr. Raleigh bent and regathered them; there was nothing for Marguerite
but to allow that he should do so. The oval had reversed in falling, so
that he did not see it; but, glancing at her before returning it, he
found her face and neck dyed deeper than the rose. Still reversed, he
was about to relinquish it, when Mrs. McLean passed, and, hearing the
scampering of little feet as they fled with booty, she also entered.
"Seeing you reminds me, Roger," said she. "What do you suppose has
become of that little miniature I told you of? I was showing it to
Marguerite the other night, and have not seen it since. I must have
mislaid it, and it was particularly valuable, for it was some nameless
thing that Mrs. Heath found among her mother's trinkets, and I begged it
of her, it was such a perfect likeness of you. Can you have seen it?"
"Yes, I have it," he replied. "And haven't I as good a right to it as
He extended his arm for the case which Marguerite held, and so touching
her hand, the touch was more lingering than it needed to be; but he
avoided looking at her, or he would have seen that the late color had
fled till the face was whiter than marble.
"Your old propensities," said Mrs. McLean. "You always will be a boy. By
the way, what do you think of Mary Purcell's engagement? I thought she
would always be a girl."
"Ah! McLean was speaking of it to me. Why were they not engaged before?"
"Because she was not an heiress."
Mr. Raleigh raised his eyebrows significantly.
"He could not afford to marry any but an heiress," explained Mrs.
Mr. Raleigh fastened the case and restored it silently.
"You think that absurd? You would not marry an heiress?"
Mr. Raleigh did not at once reply.
"You would not, then, propose to an heiress?"
As this monosyllable fell from his lips, Marguerite's motion placed
her beyond hearing. She took a few swift steps, but paused and leaned
against the wall of the gable for support, and, placing her hand upon
the sun-beat bricks, she felt a warmth in them which there seemed to be
neither in herself nor in the wide summer-air.
Mrs. Purcell came along, opening her parasol.
"I am going to the orchard," said she; "cherries are ripe. Hear the
robins and the bells! Do you want to come?"
"No," said Marguerite.
"There are bees in the orchard, too,--the very bees, for aught I
know, that Mr. Raleigh used to watch thirteen years ago, or their
great-grand-bees,--they stand in the same place."
"You knew Mr. Raleigh thirteen years ago?" she asked, glancing up
"How much is very well?"
"He proposed to me. Smother your anger; he didn't care for me; some one
told him that I cared for him."
"This is what the Inquisition calls applying the question?" asked Mrs.
Purcell. "Nonsense, dear child! he was quite in love with somebody
"And that was----?"
"He supposed your mother to be a widow. Well, if you won't come, I shall
go alone and read my 'L'Allegro' under the boughs, with breezes blowing
between the lines. I can show you some little field-mice like unfledged
birds, and a nest that protrudes now and then glittering eyes and cleft
Marguerite was silent; the latter commodity was _de trop_. Mrs. Purcell
adjusted her parasol and passed on.
Here, then, was the whole affair. Marguerite pressed her hands to her
forehead, as if fearful some of the swarming thoughts should escape;
then she hastened up the slope behind the house, and entered and hid
herself in the woods. Mr. Raleigh had loved her mother. Of course, then,
there was not a shadow of doubt that her mother had loved him. Horrible
thought! and she shook like an aspen, beneath it. For a time it seemed
that she loathed him,--that she despised the woman who had given him
regard. The present moment was a point of dreadful isolation; there was
no past to remember, no future to expect; she herself was alone and
forsaken, the whole world dark, and heaven blank. But that could not be
forever. As she sat with her face buried in her hands, old words, old
looks, flashed on her recollection; she comprehended what long years of
silent suffering the one might have endured, what barren yearning the
other; she saw how her mother's haughty calm might be the crust on a
lava-sea; she felt what desolation must have filled Roger Raleigh's
heart, when he found that she whom he had loved no longer lived, that he
had cherished a lifeless ideal,--for Marguerite knew from his own lips
that he had not met the same woman whom he had left.
She started up, wondering what had led her upon this train of thought,
why she had pursued it, and what reason she had for the pain it gave
her. A step rustled among the distant last-year's leaves; there in the
shadowy wood, where she did not dream of concealing her thoughts, where
it seemed that all Nature shared her confidence, this step was like
a finger laid on the hidden sore. She paused, a glow rushed over her
frame, and her face grew hot with the convicting flush. Consternation,
bitter condemnation, shame, impetuous resolve, swept over her in one
torrent, and she saw that she had a secret which every one might touch,
and, touching, cause to sting. She hurried onward through the wood,
unconscious how rapidly or how far her heedless course extended. She
sprang across gaps at which she would another time have shuddered; she
clambered over fallen trees, penetrated thickets of tangled brier, and
followed up the shrunken beds of streams, till suddenly the wood grew
thin again, and she emerged upon an open space,--a long lawn, where the
grass grew rank and tall as in deserted graveyards, and on which the
afternoon sunshine lay with most dreary, desolate emphasis. Marguerite
had scarcely comprehended herself before; now, as she looked out on the
utter loneliness of the place, all joyousness, all content, seemed wiped
from the world. She leaned against a tree where the building rose before
her, old and forsaken, washed by rains, beaten by winds. A blind slung
open, loose on a broken hinge; the emptiness of the house looked through
it like a spirit. The woodbine seemed the only living thing about
it,--the woodbine that had swung its clusters, heavy as grapes of
Eshcol, along one wall, and, falling from support, had rioted upon the
ground in masses of close-netted luxuriance.
Standing and surveying the silent scene of former gayety, a figure
came down the slope, crushing the grass with lingering tread, checked
himself, and, half-reversed, surveyed it with her. Her first impulse was
to approach, her next to retreat; by a resolution of forces she remained
where she was. Mr. Raleigh's position prevented her from seeing the
expression of his face; from his attitude seldom was anything to be
divined. He turned with a motion of the arm, as if he swung off a
burden, and met her eye. He laughed, and drew near.
"I am tempted to return to that suspicion of mine when I first met you,
Miss Marguerite," said he. "You take shape from solitude and empty air
as easily as a Dryad steps from her tree."
"There are no Dryads now," said Marguerite, sententiously.
"Then you confess to being a myth?"
"I confess to being tired, Mr. Raleigh."
Mr. Raleigh's manner changed, at her petulance and fatigue, to the old
air of protection, and he gave her his hand. It was pleasant to be the
object of his care, to be with him as at first, to renew their former
relation. She acquiesced, and walked beside him.
"You have had some weary travel," he said, "and probably not more than
half of it in the path."
And she feared he would glance at the rents in her frock, forgetting
that they were not sufficiently infrequent facts to be noticeable.
"He treats me like a child," she thought. "He expects me to tear my
dress! He forgets, that, while thirteen years were making a statue of
her, they were making a woman of me!" And she snatched away her hand.
"I have the boat below," he said, without paying attention to the
movement. "You took the longest way round, which, you have heard, is the
shortest way home. You have never been on the lake with me." And he was
about to assist her in.
She stepped back, hesitating.
"No, no," he said. "It is very well to think of walking back, but it
must end in thinking. You have no impetus now to send you over another
half-dozen miles of wood-faring, no pique to sting, Io."
And before she could remonstrate, she was lifted in, the oars had
flashed twice, and there was deep water between herself and shore. She
was in reality too much fatigued to be vexed, and she sat silently
watching the spaces through which they glanced, and listening to the
rhythmic dip of the oars. The soft afternoon air, with its melancholy
sweetness and tinge of softer hue, hung round them; the water, brown and
warm, was dimpled with the flight of myriad insects; they wound among
the islands, a path one of them knew of old. From the shelving rocks a
wild convolvulus drooped its twisted bells across them, a sweet-brier
snatched at her hair in passing, a sudden elder-tree shot out its creamy
panicles above, they ripped up drowsy beds of folded lily-blooms.
Mr. Raleigh, suddenly lifting one oar, gave the boat a sharp curve and
sent it out on the open expanse; it seemed to him that he had no right
thus to live two lives in one. Still he wished to linger, and with now
and then a lazy movement they slipped along. He leaned one arm on the
upright oar, like a river-god, and from the store of boat-songs in his
remembrance sang now and then a strain. Marguerite sat opposite and
rested along the side, content for the moment to glide on as they were,
without a reference to the past in her thought, without a dream of the
future. Peach-bloom fell on the air, warmed all objects into mellow
tint, and reddened deep into sunset. Tinkling cow-bells, where the kine
wound out from pasture, stole faintly over the lake, reflected dyes
suffused it and spread around them sheets of splendid color, outlines
grew ever dimmer on the distant shores, a purple tone absorbed all
brilliance, the shadows fell, and, bright with angry lustre, the planet
Mars hung in the south and struck a spear, redder than rubies, down the
placid mirror. The dew gathered and lay sparkling on the thwarts as they
touched the garden-steps, and they mounted and traversed together the
alleys of odorous dark. They entered at Mr. Raleigh's door and stepped
thence into the main hall, where they could see the broad light from the
drawing-room windows streaming over the lawn beyond. Mrs. Laudersdale
came down the hall to meet them.
"My dear Rite," she said, "I have been alarmed, and have sent the
servants out for you. You left home in the morning, and you have not
dined. Your father and Mr. Heath have arrived. Tea is just over, and
we are waiting for you to dress and go into town; it is Mrs. Manton's
evening, you recollect."
"Must I go, mamma?" asked Marguerite, after this statement of facts.
"Then I must have tea first. Mr. Raleigh, I remember my wasted
sweetmeats of the morning with a pang. How long ago that seems!"
In a moment her face told her regret for the allusion, and she hastened
into the dining-room.
Mr. Raleigh and Marguerite had a merry tea, and Mrs. Purcell came and
poured it out for them.
"Quite like the days when we went gypsying," said she, when near its
"We have just come from the Bawn, Miss Marguerite and I," he replied.
"You have? I never go near it. Did it break your heart?"
Mr. Raleigh laughed.
"Is Mr. Raleigh's heart such a delicate organ?" asked Marguerite.
"Once, you might have been answered negatively; now, it must be like the
French banner, _perce, troue, crible,"--
"Pray, add the remainder of your quotation," said he,--"_sans peur et
"So that a trifle would reduce it to flinders," said Mrs. Purcell,
without minding his interruption.
"Would you give it such a character, Miss Rite?" questioned Mr. Raleigh
"I? I don't see that you have any heart at all, Sir."
"I swallow my tea and my mortification."
"Do you remember your first repast at the Bawn?" asked Mrs. Purcell.
"And the jelly like molten rubies that I made? It keeps well." And she
moved a glittering dish toward him.
"All things of that summer keep well," he replied.
"Except yourself, Mr. Raleigh. The Indian jugglers are practising upon
us, I suspect. You are no more like the same person who played sparkling
comedy and sang passionate tragedy than this bamboo stick is like that
"I wish I could retort, Miss Helen," he replied. "I beg your pardon!"
She was silent, and her eye fell and rested on the sheeny damask
beneath. He glanced at her keenly an instant, then handed her his cup,
"May I trouble you?"
She looked up again, a smile breaking over the face wanner than
youth, but which the hour's gayety had flushed to a forgetfulness of
intervening years, extended her left hand for the cup, still gazing and
Various resolves had flitted through Marguerite's mind since her
entrance. One, that she would yet make Mr. Raleigh feel her power,
yielded to shame and self-contempt, and she despised herself for a woman
won unwooed. But she was not sure that she was won. Perhaps, after all,
she did not care particularly for Mr. Raleigh. He was much older than
she; he was quite grave, sometimes satirical; she knew nothing about
him; she was slightly afraid of him. On the whole, if she consulted her
taste, she would have preferred a younger hero; she would rather be the
Fornarina for a Raffaello; she had fancied her name sweetening the songs
of Giraud Riquier, the last of the Troubadours; and she did not believe
Beatrice Portinari to be so excellent among women, so different from
other girls, that her name should have soared so far aloft with that
escutcheon of the golden wing on a field azure. "But they say that there
cannot be two epic periods in a nation's literature," thought Marguerite
hurriedly; "so that a man who might have been Homer once will be nothing
but a gentleman now." And at this point, having decided that Mr. Raleigh
was fully worth unlimited love, she added to her resolves a desire for
content with whatever amount of friendly affection he chose to bestow
upon her. And all this, while sifting the sugar over her raspberries.
Nevertheless, she felt, in the midst of her heroic content, a strange
jealousy at hearing the two thus discuss days in which she had no share,
and she watched them furtively, with a sharp, hateful suspicion dawning
in her mind. Now, as Mrs. Purcell's eyes met Mr. Raleigh's, and her hand
was still extended for the cup, Marguerite fastened her glance on its
glittering ring, and said abruptly,--
"Mrs. Purcell, have you a husband?"
Mrs. Purcell started and withdrew her hand, as if it had received a
blow, just as Mr. Raleigh relinquished the cup, so that between them the
bits of pictured porcelain fell and splintered over the equipage.
"Naughty child!" said Mrs. Purcell. "See now what you've done!"
"What have I to do with it?"
"Then you haven't any bad news for me? Has any one heard from the
Colonel? Is he ill?"
"Pshaw!" said Marguerite, rising and throwing down her napkin.
She went to the window and looked out.
"It is time you were gone, little lady," said Mr. Raleigh.
She approached Mrs. Purcell and passed her hand down her hair.
"What pretty soft hair you have!" said she. "These braids are like
carved gold-stone. May I dress it with sweet-brier to-night? I brought
home a spray."
"Rite!" said Mrs. Laudersdale sweetly, at the door; and Rite obeyed the
In a half-hour she came slowly down the stairs, untwisting a long string
of her mother's abandoned pearls, great pear-shaped things full of the
pale lustre of gibbous moons. She wore a dress of white samarcand, with
a lavish ornament like threads and purfiles of gold upon the bodice, and
Ursule followed with a cloak. As she entered the drawing-room, the great
bunches of white azalea, which her mother had brought from the swamps,
caught her eye; she threw down the pearls, and broke off rapid dusters
of the queenly flowers, touching the backward-curling hyacinthine
petals, and caressingly passing her finger down the pale purple shadow
of the snowy folds. Directly afterward she hung them in her breezy hair,
from which, by natural tenure, they were not likely to fall, bound them
over her shoulders and in her waist.
"See! I stand like Summer," she said, "wrapped in perfume; it is
Just then two hands touched her, and her father bent his face over her.
She flung her arms round him, careless of their fragile array, kissed
him on both cheeks, laughed, and kissed him again. She did not speak,
for he disliked French, and English sometimes failed her.
"Here is Mr. Heath," her father said.
She partly turned, touched that gentleman's hand with the ends of her
fingers, and nodded. Her father whispered a brief sentence in her ear.
"_Jamais, Monsieur, jamais!_" she exclaimed; then, with a quick gesture
of deprecation, moved again toward him; but Mr. Laudersdale had coldly
passed to make his compliments to Mrs. Heath.
"You are not in toilet?" said Marguerite, following him, but speaking
with Mr. Raleigh.
"No,--Mrs. Purcell has been playing for me a little thing I always
liked,--that sweet, tuneful afternoon chiding of the Miller and the
She glanced at Mrs. Purcell, saw that her dress remained unaltered, and
commenced pulling out the azaleas from her own.
"I do not want to go," she murmured. "I need not! Mamma and Mrs. McLean
have already gone in the other carriage."
"Come, Marguerite," said Mr. Laudersdale, approaching her, as Mr. Heath
and his mother disappeared.
"I am not going," she replied, quickly.
"Not going? I beg your pardon, my dear, but you are!" and he took her
She half endeavored to withdraw it, threw a backward glance over her
shoulder at the remaining pair, and, led by her father, went out.
Marguerite did her best to forget the vexation, was very affable with
her father, and took no notice of any of Mr. Heath's prolonged remarks.
The drive was at best a tiresome one, and she was already half-asleep
when the carriage stopped. The noise and light, and the little vanities
of the dressing-room, awakened her, and she descended prepared for
conquest. But, after a few moments, it all became weariness, the air
was close, the flowers faded, the music piercing. The toilets did
not attract nor the faces interest her. She danced along absent and
spiritless, when her eye, raised dreamily, fell on an object among the
curtains and lay fascinated there. It was certainly Mr. Raleigh: but so
little likely did that seem, that she again circled the room, with her
eyes bent upon that point, expecting it to vanish. He must have come in
the saddle, unless a coach had returned for him and Mrs. Purcell,--yes,
there was Mrs. Purcell,--and she wore that sweet-brier fresh-blossoming
in the light. With what ease she moved!--it must always have been the
same grace;--how brilliant she was! There,--she was going to dance with
Mr. Raleigh. No? Where, then? Into the music-room!
The music-room lay beyond an anteroom of flowers and prints, and
was closed against the murmur of the parlors by great glass doors.
Marguerite, from her position, could see Mr. Raleigh seated at the
piano, and Mrs. Purcell standing by his side; now she turned a leaf, now
she stooped, and their hands touched upon the keys. Marguerite slipped
alone through the dancers, and drew nearer. There were others in the
music-room, but they were at a distance from the piano. She entered
the anteroom and sat shadowed among the great fragrant shrubs. A group
already stood there, eating ices and gayly gossiping. Mr. Laudersdale
and Mr. Manton sauntered in, their heads together, and muttering occult
matters of business, whose tally was kept with forefinger on palm.
"Where is Raleigh?" asked Mr. Manton, looking up. "He can tell us."
"At his old occupation," answered a gentleman from beside Mrs.
Laudersdale, "flirting with forbidden fruit."
"An alliterative amusement," said Mrs. Laudersdale.
"You did not know the original Raleigh?" continued the gentleman. "But
he always took pleasure in female society; yet, singularly enough,
though fastidious in choice, it was only upon the married ladies that he
bestowed his platonisms. I observe the old Adam still clings to him."
"He probably found more liberty with them," remarked Mrs. Laudersdale,
when no one else replied.
"Without doubt he took it."
"I mean, that, where attentions are known to intend nothing, one is not
obliged to measure them, or to calculate upon effects."
"Of the latter no one can accuse Mr. Raleigh!" said Mr. Laudersdale,
hotly, forgetting himself for once.
Mrs. Laudersdale lifted her large eyes and laid them on her husband's
"Excuse me! excuse me!" said the gentleman, with natural misconception.
"I was not aware that he was a friend of yours." And taking a lady on
his arm, he withdrew.
"Nor is he!" said Mr. Laudersdale, in lowest tones, replying to his
wife's gaze, and for the first time intimating his feeling. "Never,
never, can I repair the ruin he has made me!"
Mrs. Laudersdale rose and stretched out her arm, blindly.
"The room is quite dark," she murmured; "the flowers must soil the air.
Will you take me up-stairs?"
Meanwhile, the unconscious object of their remark was turning over a
pile of pages with one hand, while the other trifled along the gleaming
"Here it is," said he, drawing one from the others, and arranging it
before him,--a _gondel-lied_.
There stole from his fingers the soft, slow sound of lapsing waters, the
rocking on the tide, the long sway of some idle weed. Here a jet of tune
was flung out from a distant bark, here a high octave flashed like a
passing torch through night-shadows, and lofty arching darkness told in
clustering chords. Now the boat fled through melancholy narrow ways of
pillared pomp and stately beauty, now floated off on the wide lagoons
alone with the stars and sea. Into this broke the passion of the gliding
lovers, deep and strong, giving a soul to the whole, and fading away
again, behind its wild beating,--with the silence of lapping ripple and
Mrs. Purcell, standing beside the player, laid a careless arm across the
instrument, and bent her face above him like a flower languid with
the sun's rays. Suddenly the former smile suffused it, and, as the
gondel-lied fell into a slow floating accompaniment, she sang with a
swift, impetuous grace, and in a sweet, yet thrilling voice, the Moth
Song. The shrill music and murmur from the parlors burst all at once in
muffled volume upon the melody, and, turning, they both saw Marguerite
standing in the doorway, like an angry wraith, and flitting back again.
Mrs. Purcell laughed, but took up the thread of her song again where it
was broken, and carried it through to the end. Then Mr. Raleigh tossed
the gondel-lied aside, and rising, they continued their stroll.
"You have more than your share of the good things of life, Raleigh,"
said Mr. McLean, as the person addressed poured out wine for Mrs.
Purcell. "Two affairs on hand at once? You drink deep. Light and
sparkling,--thin and tart,--isn't it Solomon who forbids mixed drink?"
"I was never the worse for claret," replied Mr. Raleigh, bearing away
the glittering glass.
The party from the Lake had not arrived at an early hour, and it was
quite late when Mr. Raleigh made his way through ranks of tireless
dancers, toward Marguerite. She had been dancing with a spirit that
would have resembled joyousness but for its reckless _abandon_. She
seemed to him then like a flame, as full of wilful sinuous caprice. At
the first he scarcely liked it, but directly the artistic side of his
nature recognized the extreme grace and beauty that flowed through every
curve of movement. Standing now, the corn-silk hair slightly disordered
and still blown about by the fan of some one near her, her eyes
sparkling like stars in the dewdrops of wild wood-violets, warm, yet
weary, and a flush deepening her cheek with color, while the flowers
hung dead around her, she held a glass of wine and watched the bead swim
to the brim. Mr. Raleigh approached unaware, and startled her as he
"It is _au gre du vent_, indeed," he said,--"just the white fluttering
butterfly,--and now that the wings are clasped above this crimson
blossom, I have a chance of capture." And smiling, he gently withdrew
the splendid draught.
"_Buvez, Monsieur_," she said; "_c'est le vin de la vie!_"
"Do you know how near daylight it is?" he replied. "Mrs. Laudersdale
fainted in the heat, and your father took her home long ago. The Heaths
went also; and the carriage has just returned for the only ones of us
that are left, you and me."
"Is it ready now?"
"So am I."
And in a few moments she sat opposite him in the coach, on their way
"It wouldn't be possible for me to sit on the box and drive?" she asked.
"I should like it, in this wild starlight, these flying clouds, this
breath of dawn."
Meeting no response, she sank into silence. No emotion can keep one
awake forever, and, after all her late fatigue, the roll of the easy
vehicle upon the springs soon soothed her into a dreamy state. Through
the efforts at wakefulness, she watched the gleams that fell within from
the carriage-lamps, the strange shadows on the roadside, the boughs
tossing to the wind and flickering all their leaves in the speeding
light; she watched, also, Mr. Raleigh's face, on which, in the fitful
flashes, she detected a look of utter weariness.
"_Monsieur_," she exclaimed, "_il faut que je vous gene!_"
"Immensely," said Mr. Raleigh with a smile; "but, fortunately, for no
"We shall be soon at home? Then I must have slept."
"Very like. What did you dream?"
"Oh, one must not tell dreams before breakfast, or they come to pass,
"No,--I am uninitiated in dream-craft. Mr. Heath"----
"_Monsieur_," she cried, with sudden heat, "_il me semble que je
comprends les Laocoons! J'en suis de meme!_"
As she spoke, she fell, struck forward by a sudden shock, the coach was
rocking like a boat, and plunging down unknown gulfs. Mr. Raleigh seized
her, broke through the door, and sprang out.
"_Qu'avez vous?_" she exclaimed.
"The old willow is fallen in the wind," he replied.
"_Quel dommage_ that we did not see it fall!"
"It has killed one of the horses, I fear," he continued, measuring, as
formerly, her terror by her levity. "Capua! is all right? Are you safe?"
"Yah, massa!" responded a voice from the depths, as Capua floundered
with the remaining horse in the thicket at the lake-edge below. "Yah,
massa,--nuffin harm Ol' Cap in water; spec he born to die in galluses;
had nuff chance to be in glory, ef 'twasn't. I's done beat wid dis yer
pony, anyhow, Mass'r Raleigh. Seems, ef he was a 'sect to fly in de face
of all creation an' pay no 'tention to his centre o' gravity, he might
walk up dis yer hill!"
Mr. Raleigh left Marguerite a moment, to relieve Capua's perplexity.
Through the remaining darkness, the sparkle of stars, and wild fling of
shadows in the wind, she could but dimly discern the struggling figures,
and the great creature trampling and snorting below. She remembered
strange tales out of the "Arabian Nights," "Bellerophon and the
Chimaera," "St. George and the Dragon"; she waited, half-expectant, to
see the great talon-stretched wings flap up against the slow edge of
dawn, where Orion lay, a pallid monster, watching the planet that
flashed like some great gem low in a crystalline west, and she stepped
nearer, with a kind of eager and martial spirit, to do battle in turn.
"Stand aside, Una!" cried Mr. Raleigh, who had worked in a determined
characteristic silence, and the horse's head, sharp ear, and starting
eye were brought to sight, and then his heaving bulk.
"All right, massa!" cried Capua, after a moment's survey, as he patted
the trembling flanks. "Pretty tough ex'cise dat! Spect Massam Clean be
mighty high,--his best cretur done about killed wid dat tree;--feared he
show dis nigger a stick worf two o' dat!"
"We had like to have finished our dance on nothing," said Mr. Raleigh
now, looking back on the splintered wheels and panels. "Will you mount?
I can secure you from falling."
"Oh, no,--I can walk; it is only a little way."
"Reach home like Cinderella? If you had but one glass slipper, that
might be; but in satin ones it is impossible." And she found herself
seated aloft before quite aware what had happened.
Pacing along, they talked lightly, with the gayety natural upon
excitement,--Capua once in a while adding a cogent word. As they opened
the door, Mr. Raleigh paused a moment.
"I am glad," he said, "that my last day with you has been crowned by
such adventures. I leave the Lake at noon."
She hung, listening, with a backward swerve of figure, and regarding
him in the dim light of the swinging hall-lamp, for the moment
half-petrified. Suddenly she turned and seized his hand in hers,--then
threw it off.
"_Cher ami_," she murmured hastily, in a piercing whisper, like some
articulate sigh, "_si tu m'aimes, dis moi!_"
The door closed in the draught, the drawing-room door opened, and Mr.
Laudersdale stepped out, having been awaiting their return. Mr. Raleigh
caught the flash of Marguerite's eye and the crimson of her cheek, as
she sprang forward up the stairs and out of sight.
The family did not breakfast together the next day, as politeness
chooses to call the first hour after a ball, and Mr. Raleigh was making
some arrangements preliminary to his departure, in his own apartments,
at about the hour of noon. The rooms which he had formerly occupied Mrs.
McLean had always kept closed, in a possibility of his return, and he
had found himself installed in them upon his arrival. The library was
today rather a melancholy room: the great book-cases did not enliven it;
the grand-piano, with its old dark polish, seemed like a coffin, the
sarcophagus of unrisen music; the oak panelling had absorbed a richer
hue with the years than once it wore; the portrait of his mother seemed
farther withdrawn from sight and air; Antinoues took a tawnier tint in
his long reverie. The Summer, past her height, sent a sad beam, the
signal of decay, through the half-open shutters, and it lay wearily on
the man who sat by the long table, and made more sombre yet the faded
carpet and cumbrous chair.
There was a tap on the door. Mr. Raleigh rose and opened it, and invited
Mr. Laudersdale in. The latter gentleman complied, took the chair
resigned by the other, but after a few words became quiet. Mr. Raleigh
made one or two attempts at conversation, then, seeing silence to be his
visitor's whim, suffered him to indulge it, and himself continued his
writing. Indeed, the peculiar relations existing between these men made
much conversation difficult. Mr. Laudersdale sat with his eyes upon
the floor for several minutes, and his countenance wrapped in thought.
Rising, with his hands behind him, he walked up and down the long room,
still without speaking.
"Can I be of service to you, Sir?" asked the other, after observing him.
"Yes, Mr. Raleigh, I am led to think you can,"--still pacing up and
down, and vouchsafing no further information.
At last, the monotonous movement ended, Mr. Laudersdale stood at the
window, intercepting the sunshine, and examined some memoranda.
"Yes, Mr. Raleigh," he resumed, with all his courtly manner, upon close
of the examination, "I am in hopes that you may assist me in a singular
"I shall be very glad to do so."
"Thank you. This is the affair. About a year ago, being unable to make
my usual visit to my daughter and her grandmother, I sent there in my
place our head clerk, young Heath, to effect the few transactions, and
also to take a month's recreation,--for we were all overworked and
exhausted by the crisis. The first thing he proceeded to do was to fall
in love with my daughter. Of course he did not mention this occurrence
to me, on his return. When my daughter arrived at New York, I was again
detained, myself, and sent her to this place under his care. He lingered
rather longer than he should have done, knowing the state of things; but
I suspected nothing, for the idea of a clerk's marriage with the heiress
of the great Martinique estate never entered my mind; moreover, I have
regarded her as a child; and I sent him back with various commissions at
several times,--once on business with McLean, once to obtain my wife's
signature to some sacrifice of property, and so on. I really beg your
pardon, Mr. Raleigh; it is painful to another, I am aware, to be thrust
upon family confidences"----
"Pray, Sir, proceed," said Mr. Raleigh, wheeling his chair about.
"But since you are in a manner connected with the affair, yourself"----
"You must be aware, Mr. Laudersdale, that my chief desire is the
opportunity you afford me."
"I believe so. I am happy to afford it. On the occasion of Mr. Heath's
last visit to this place, Marguerite drew attention to a coin whose
history you heard, and the other half of which Mrs. Purcell wore. Mr.
Heath obtained the fragment he possessed through my wife's aunt, Susanne
Le Blanc; Mrs. Purcell obtained hers through her grandmother, Susan
White. Of course, these good people were not slow to put the coin and
the names together; Mr. Heath, moreover, had heard portions of the
history of Susanne Le Blanc, when in Martinique.
"On resuming his duties in the counting-house, after this little
incident, one day, at the close of business-hours, he demanded from me
the remnants of this history with which he might be unacquainted. When
I paused, he took up the story and finished it with ease, and--and
poetical justice, I may say, Mr. Raleigh. Susanne was the sister of
Mrs. Laudersdale's father, though far younger than he. She met a young
American gentleman, and they became interested in each other. Her
brother designed her for a different fate,--the governor of the island,
indeed, was her suitor,--and forbade their intercourse. There were
rumors of a private marriage; her apartments were searched for any
record, note, or proof, unsuccessfully. If there were such, they had
been left in the gentleman's hands for better concealment. It being
supposed that they continued to meet, M. Le Blanc prevailed upon the
governor to arrest the lover on some trifling pretence and send him out
of the island. Shortly afterward, as he once confessed to his wife, he
caused a circumstantial account of the death and funeral obsequies of
each to reach the other. Immediately he urged the governor's suit again,
and when she continued to resist, he fixed the wedding-day, himself, and
ordered the _trousseau_. Upon this, one evening, she buried the box of
trinkets at the foot of the oleanders, and disappeared the next, and no
trace of her was found.
"When I reached this point, young Heath turned to me with that
impudently nonchalant drawl of his, saying,--
"'And her property, Sir?'
"'That,' I replied innocently, 'which comprised half the estate, and
which she would have received, on attaining the requisite age, was
inherited by her brother, upon her suicide.'
"'Apparent suicide, you mean,' said he; and thereupon took up the story,
as I have said, matched date to date and person to person, and informed
me that exactly a fortnight from the day of Mademoiselle Susanne Le
Blanc's disappearance, a young lady took rooms at a hotel in a Southern
city, and advertised for a situation as governess, under the name of
Susan White. She gave no references, spoke English imperfectly, and had
difficulty in obtaining one; finally, however, she was successful, and
after a few years married into the family of her employer, and became
the mother of Mrs. Heath. The likeness of Mrs. Purcell, the grandchild
of Susan White, to Susanne Le Blanc, was so extraordinary, a number of
years ago, that, when Ursule, my daughter's nurse, first saw her, she
fainted with terror. My wife, you are aware, was born long after these
events. This governess never communicated to her husband any more
specific circumstance of her youth than that she had lived in the West
Indies, and had left her family because they had resolved to marry
her,--as she might have done, had she not died shortly after her
daughter's birth. Among her few valuables were found this half-coin of
Heath's, and a miniature, which his mother recently gave your cousin,
but which, on account of its new interest, she has demanded again; for
it is probably that of the ancient lover, and bearing, as it does, a
very striking resemblance to yourself, you have pronounced it to be
undoubtedly that of your uncle, Reuben Raleigh, and wondered how it came
into the possession of Mrs. Heath's mother. Now, as you may be aware,
Reuben Raleigh was the name of Susanne Le Blanc's lover."
"No,--I was not aware."
Mr. Laudersdale's countenance, which had been animated in narration,
"I was in hopes," he resumed,--"I thought,--my relation of these
occurrences may have been very confused; but it is as plain as daylight
to me, that Susanne Le Blanc and Susan White are one, and that the
property of the first is due to the heirs of the last."
"Without doubt, Sir."
"The same is plain, to the Heaths. I am sure that Marguerite will accept
our decision in the matter,--sure that no daughter of mine would
retain a fraudulent penny; for retain it she could, since there is not
sufficient proof in any court, if we chose to contest; but it will
"How, Sir? Beggar her to divide her property?"
"It is a singular division. The interest due on Susanne's moiety swells
it enormously. Add to this, that, after M. Le Blanc's death, Madame Le
Blanc, a much younger person, did not so well understand the management
of affairs, the property depreciated, and many losses were encountered,
and it happens that the sum due Mrs. Heath covers the whole amount that
"Now, then, Sir?" exclaimed Mr. Raleigh, interrogatively.
"Now, then, Mrs. Heath requests my daughter's hand for her son, and
offers to set off to him, at once, such sum as would constitute his half
of her new property upon her decease, and allow him to enter our house
as special partner."
"This does not look so unreasonable. Last night he proposed formally to
Marguerite, who is still ignorant of these affairs, and she refused him.
I have urged her differently,--I can do no more than urge,--and she
remains obdurate. To accumulate misfortunes, we escaped 1857 by a
miracle. We have barely recovered; and now various disasters striking
us,--the loss of the Osprey the first and chief of them,--we are to-day
on the verge of bankruptcy. Nothing but the entrance of this fortune can
save us from ruin."
"Unfortunate!" said Mr. Raleigh,--"most unfortunate! And can I serve you
at this point?"
"Not at all, Sir," said Mr. Laudersdale, with sudden erectness. "No,--I
have but one hope. It has seemed to me barely possible that your uncle
may have communicated to you events of his early life,--that you may
have heard, that there may have been papers telling of the real fate of
Susanne Le Blanc."
"None that I know of," said Mr. Raleigh, after a pause. "My uncle was
a very reserved person. I often imagined that his youth had not been
without its passages, something to account for his unvarying depression.
In one letter, indeed, I asked him for such a narration. He promised to
give it to me shortly,--the next mail, perhaps. The next mail I received
nothing; and after that he made no allusion to the request."
"Indeed? Indeed? I should say,--pardon me, Mr. Raleigh,--that your
portion of the next mail met with some accident. Your servants could not
"There is Capua, who was major-domo. We can inquire," said Mr. Raleigh,
with a smile, rising and ringing for that functionary.
On Capua's appearance, the question was asked, if he had ever secretly
detained letter or paper of any kind.
"Lors, massa! I alwes knew 'twould come to dis!" he replied. "No, massa,
neber!" shaking his head with repeated emphasis.
"I thought you might have met with some accident, Capua," said his
"Axerden be ----, beg massa's parden; but such s'picions poison any
family's peace, and make a feller done forgit hisself."
"Very well," said Mr. Raleigh, who was made to believe by this vehemence
in what at first had seemed a mere fantasy. "Only remember, that, if you
could assure me that any papers had been destroyed, the assurance would
be of value."
"'Deed, Mass Roger? Dat alters de case," said Capua, grinning. "Dere's
been a good many papers 'stroyed in dis yer house firs' an' last."
"Which in particular?"
"Don' rekerlek, massa, it's so long ago."
"But make an effort."
"Well, Massa Raleigh,--'pears to me I _do_ remember suthin',--I do
b'lieve--yes, dis's jist how 'twas. Spect I might as well make a crean
breast ob it. I's alwes had it hangin' roun' my conscious; do'no' but
I's done grad to git rid ob it. Alwes spected massa 'd be 'xcusin' Cap
o' turnin' tief."
"That is the last accusation I should make against you, Capua."
"But dar I stan's convicted."
"Out with it, Capua!" said Mr. Laudersdale, laughing.
"Lord! Massa Lausdel! how you do scare a chile! Didn' know mass'r was
dar. See, Mass Roger, dis's jist how 'twas. Spec you mind dat time
when all dese yer folks lib'd acrost de lake dat summer, an' massa was
possessed to 'most lib dar too? Well, one day, massa mind Ol' Cap's
runnin' acrost in de rain an' in great state ob excitement to tell him
his house done burnt up?"
"Yes. What then?"
"Dat day, massa, de letters had come from Massa Reuben out in Indy, an'
massa's pipe kinder 'tracted Cap's 'tention, an' so he jist set down in
massa's chair an' took a smoke. Bimeby Cap thought,--'Ef massa come an'
ketch him!'--an' put down de pipe an' went to work, and bimeby I smelt
mighty queer smell, massa, 'bout de house, made him tink Ol' Nick was
come hissef for Ol' Cap, an' I come back into dis yer room an' Massa
Reuben's letters from Indy was jist most done burnt up, he cotched 'em
in dese yer ol' brack han's, Mass Roger, an' jist whipt 'em up in dat
And having arrived at this confusion in his personal pronouns, Capua
mounted nimbly on pieces of furniture, thrust his pocket-knife through
a crack of the wainscot, opened the door of a small unseen closet, and,
after groping about and inserting his head as Van Amburgh did in the
lion's mouth, scrambled down again with his hand full of charred and
blackened papers, talking glibly all the while.
"Ef massa'd jist listen to reason," he said, "'stead o' flyin' into one
ob his tantrums, I might sprain de matter. You see, I knew Mass Roger'd
feel so oncomforble and remorseful to find his ol' uncle's letters done
'stroyed, an 'twas all by axerden, an' couldn' help it noways, massa,
an' been done sorry eber since, an' wished dar warn't no letters dis
side de Atlantic nor torrer, ebery day I woke."
After which plea, Capua awaited his sentence.
"That will do,--it's over now, old boy," said Mr. Raleigh, with his
"Now, massa, you a'n't gwine"----
"No, Capua, I'm going to do nothing but look at the papers."
"You need not be troubled,--I said, I was not."
"But, massa,--s'pose I deserve a thrashing?"
"There's no danger of your getting it, you blameless Ethiop!"
Upon which pacific assurance, Capua departed.
The two gentlemen now proceeded to the examination of these fragments.
Of the letters nothing whatever was to be made. From one of them dropped
a little yellow folded paper that fell apart in its creases. Put
together, it formed a sufficiently legible document, and they read the
undoubted marriage-certificate of Susanne Le Blanc and Reuben Raleigh.
"I am sorry," said Mr. Laudersdale, after a moment. "I am sorry, instead
of a fortune, to give them a bar-sinister."
"Your daughter is ignorant?--your wife?"
"Entirely. Will you allow me to invite them in here? They should see
"You do not anticipate any unpleasant effect?"
"Not the slightest Marguerite has no notion of want or of pride.
Her first and only thought will be--_sa cousine Helene_." And Mr.
Laudersdale went out.
Some light feet were to be heard pattering down the stairs, a mingling
of voices, then Mr. Laudersdale passed on, and Marguerite tapped,
entered, and closed the door.
"My father has told me something I but half understand," said she, with
her hand on the door. "Unless I marry Mr. Heath, I lose my wealth? What
does that signify? Would all the mines of Peru tempt me?"
Mr. Raleigh remained leaning against the corner of the bookcase. She
advanced and stood at the foot of the table, nearly opposite him. Her
lips were glowing as if the fire of her excitement were fanned by every
breath; her eyes, half hidden by the veiling lids, seemed to throw a
light out beneath them and down her cheek. She wore a mantle of swan's
down closely wrapped round her, for she had complained ceaselessly of
the chilly summer.
"Mr. Raleigh," she said, "I am poorer than you are, now. I am no longer
At this moment, the door opened again and Mrs. Laudersdale entered. At
a step she stood in the one sunbeam; at another, the shutters blew
together, and the room was left in semi-darkness, with her figure
gleaming through it, outlined and starred in tremulous evanescent
light. For an instant both Marguerite and Mr. Raleigh seemed to be
half awe-struck by the radiant creature shining out of the dark;
but directly, Marguerite sprang back and stripped away the torrid
nasturtium-vine which her mother had perhaps been winding in her hair
when her husband spoke with her, and whose other end, long and laden
with fragrant flame, still hung in her hand and along her dress.
Laughing, Marguerite in turn wound it about herself, and the flowers, so
lately plucked from the bath of hot air, where they had lain steeping in
sun, flashed through the air a second, and then played all their faint
spirit-like luminosity about their new wearer. She seemed sphered in
beauty, like the Soul of Morning in some painter's fantasy, with all
great stars blossoming out in floral life about her, colorless, yet
brilliant in shape and light. It was too much; Mr. Raleigh opened the
window and let in the daylight again, and a fresh air that lent the
place a gayer life. As he did so, Mr. Laudersdale entered, and with him
Mr. Heath and his mother. Mr. Laudersdale briefly recapitulated the
facts, and added,--
"Communicating my doubts to Mr. Raleigh, he has kindly furnished me with
the marriage-certificate of his uncle and Mademoiselle Le Blanc. And as
Mr. Reuben Raleigh was living within thirteen years, you perceive that
your claims are invalidated."
There was a brief silence while the paper was inspected.
"I am still of opinion that my grandmother's second marriage was legal,"
replied Mr. Heath; "yet I should be loath to drag up her name and
subject ourselves to a possibility of disgrace. So, though the estate is
ours, we can do without it!"
Meanwhile, Marguerite had approached her father, and was patching
together the important scraps.
"What has this to do with it?" said she. "You admitted before this
discovery--did you not?--that the property was no longer mine. These
people are Aunt Susanne's heirs still, if not legally, yet justly. I
will not retain a _sous_ of it! My father shall instruct my lawyer, Mrs.
Heath, to make all necessary transfers to yourself. Let us wish you
good-morning!" And she opened the door for them to pass.
"Marguerite! are you mad?" asked her father, as the door closed.
"No, father,--but honest,--which is the same thing," she responded,
still standing near it.
"True," he said, in a low tone like a groan. "But we are ruined."
"Ruined? Oh, no! You are well and strong. So am I. I can work. I shall
get much embroidery to do, for I can do it perfectly; the nuns taught
me. I have a thousand resources. And there is something my mother can
do; it is her great secret; she has played at it summer after summer.
She has moulded leaves and flowers and twined them round beautiful faces
in clay, long enough; now she shall carve them in stone, and you will be
Mrs. Laudersdale sat in a low chair while Marguerite spoke, the
nasturtium-vine dinging round her feet like a gorgeous snake, her hands
lying listlessly in her lap, and her attitude that of some queen who has
lost her crown, and is totally bewildered by this strange conduct on the
part of circumstances. All the strength and energy that had been the
deceits of manner were utterly fallen away, and it was plain, that,
whatever the endowment was which Marguerite had mentioned, she could
only play at it. She was but a woman, sheer woman, with the woman's one
capability, and the exercise of that denied her.
Mr. Laudersdale remained with his eyes fixed on her, and lost, it
seemed, to the presence of others.
"The disgrace is bitter," he murmured. "I have kept my name so proudly
and so long! But that is little. It is for you I fear. I have stood in
your sunshine and shadowed your life, dear!--At least," he continued,
after a pause, "I can place you beyond the reach of suffering. I must
finish my lonely way."
Mrs. Laudersdale looked up slowly and met his earnest glance.
"Must I leave you?" she exclaimed, with a wild terror in her tone. "Do
you mean that I shall go away? Oh, you need not care for me,--you need
never love me,--you may always be cold,--but I must serve you, live with
you, die with you!" And she sprang forward with outstretched arms.
He caught her before her foot became entangled in the long folds of her
skirt, drew her to himself, and held her. What he murmured was inaudible
to the others; but a tint redder than roses are swam to her cheek, and a
smile broke over her face like a reflection in rippling water. She held
his arm tightly in her hand, and erect and proud, as it were with a new
life, bent toward Roger Raleigh.
"You see!" said she. "My husband loves me. And I,--it seems at this
moment that I have never loved any other than him!"
There came a quick step along the matting, the handle of the door turned
in Marguerite's resisting grasp, and Mrs. Purcell's light muslins swept
through. Mr. Raleigh advanced to meet her,--a singular light upon his
face, a strange accent of happiness in his voice.
"Since you seem to be a part of the affair," she said in a low tone,
while her lip quivered with anger and scorn, "concerning which I have
this moment been informed, pray, take to Mr. Lauderdale my brother's
request to enter the house of Day, Knight, and Company, from this day."
"Has he made such a request?" asked Mr. Raleigh.
"He shall make it!" she murmured swiftly, and was gone.
That night a telegram flashed over the wires, and thenceforth, on the
great financial tide, the ship Day, Knight, and Company lowered its peak
The day crept through until evening, deepening into genuine heat, and
Marguerite sat waiting for Mr. Raleigh to come and bid her farewell.
It seemed that his plans were altered, or possibly he was gone, and at
sunset she went out alone. The cardinals that here and there showed
their red caps above the bank, the wild roses that still lined the way,
the grapes that blossomed and reddened and ripened year after year
ungathered, did not once lift her eyes. She sat down, at last, on an old
fallen trunk cushioned with moss, half of it forever wet in the brook
that babbled to the lake, and waited for the day to quench itself in
coolness and darkness.
"Ah!" said Mr. Raleigh, leaping from the other side of the brook to the
mossy trunk, "is it you? I have been seeking you, and what sprite sends
you to me?"
"I thought you were going away," she said, abruptly.
"That is a broken paving-stone," he answered, seating himself beside
her, and throwing his hat on the grass.
"You asked me, yesterday, if I confessed to being a myth," she said,
after a time. "If I should go back to Martinique, I should become one in
your remembrance,--should I not? You would think of me just as you would
have thought of the Dryad yesterday, if she had stepped from the tree
and stepped back again?"
"Are you going to Martinique?" he asked, with a total change of face and
"I don't know. I am tired of this; and I cannot live on an ice-field. I
had such life at the South! It is 'as if a rose should shut and be a bud
again.' I need my native weather, heat and sea."
"How can you go to Martinique?"
"Oh, I forgot!"
Mr. Raleigh did not reply, and they both sat listening to the faint
night-side noises of the world.
"You are very quiet," he said at last, ceasing to fling waifs upon the
"And you could be very gay, I believe."
"Yes. I am full of exuberant spirits. Do you know what day it is?"
"It is my birthday."
"It is _my_ birthday!"
"How strange! The Jews would tell you that this sweet first of August
was the birthday of the world.
"''Tis like the birthday of the world,
When earth was born in bloom,'"--
she sang, but paused before her voice should become hoarse in tears.
"Do you know what you promised me on my birthday? I am going to claim
"The present. You shall have a cast which I had made from one of
my mother's fancies or bas-reliefs,--she only does the front of
anything,--a group of fleurs-de-lis whose outlines make a child's face,
"It is more than any likeness in stone or pencil that I shall ask of
"You cannot imagine?"
"_Monsieur_" she whispered, turning toward him, and blushing in the
twilight, "_est ce que c'est moi?_"
There came out the low west-wind singing to itself through the leaves,
the drone of a late-carousing honey-bee, the lapping of the water on the
shore, the song of the wood-thrush replete with the sweetness of its
half-melody; and ever and anon the pensive cry of the whippoorwill
fluted across the deepening silence that summoned all these murmurs
into hearing. A rustle like the breeze in the birches passed, and Mrs.
Purcell retarded her rapid step to survey the woods-people who rose out
of the shade and now went on together with her. It seemed as if the
loons and whippoorwills grew wild with sorrow that night, and after a
while Mrs. Purcell ceased her lively soliloquy, and as they walked they
listened. Suddenly Mr. Raleigh turned. Mrs. Purcell was not beside him.
They had been walking on the brook-edge; the path was full of gaps and
cuts. With a fierce shudder and misgiving, he hurriedly retraced his
steps, and searched and called; then, with the same haste, rejoining
Marguerite, gained the house, for lanterns and assistance. Mrs. Purcell
sat at the drawing-room window.
"_Comment?_" cried Marguerite, breathlessly.
"Oh, I had no idea of walking in fog up to my chin," said Mrs. Purcell;
"so I took the short cut."
"You give me credit for the tragic element," she continued, under her
breath, as Mr. Raleigh quietly passed her. "That is old style. To be
sure, I might as well die there as in the swamps of Florida. Purcell is
ordered to Florida. Of course, I am ordered too!" And she whirled him
the letter which she held.
Other letters had been received with the evening-mail, and one that made
Mr. Raleigh's return in September imperative occasioned some discussion
in the House of Laudersdale. The result that that gentleman secured
one more than he had intended in the spring; and if you ever watch the
shipping-list, the arrival of the Spray-Plough at Calcutta, with Mr. and
Mrs. Raleigh among the passengers, will be seen by you as soon as me.
Later in the evening of this same eventful day, as Mr. Raleigh and
Marguerite sat together in the moonlight that flooded the great window,
Mrs. Laudersdale passed them and went down the garden to the lake.
She wore some white garment, as in her youth, and there was a dreamy
sweetness in her eye and an unspoken joy about her lips. Mr. Raleigh
could not help thinking it was a singular happiness, this that opened
before her; it seemed to be like a fruit plucked from the stem and left
to mature in the sunshine by itself, late and lingering, never sound at
heart. She floated on, with the light in her dusky eyes and the seldom
rose on her cheek,--floated on from moonbeam to moonbeam,--and the
lovers brought back their glances and gave them to each other. For one,
life opened a labyrinth of warmth and light and joy; for the other,
youth was passed, destiny not to be appeased: if his affection enriched
her, the best he could do was to bestow it; in his love there would yet
be silent reservations.
"Mr. Raleigh," said Marguerite, "did you ever love my mother?"
"Once I thought I did."
"Whereas I was blind, now I see."
"Listen! Mrs. Purcell is singing in the drawing-room."
"Through lonely summers, where the roses blow
Unsought, and shed their tangled sweets,
I sit and hark, or in the starry dark,
Or when the night-rain on the hill-side beats.
"Alone! But when the eternal summers flow
And refluent drown in song all moan,
Thy soul shall waste for its delight, and haste
Through heaven. And I shall be no more alone!"
"What a voice she sings with to-night!" said Marguerite. "It is stripped
of all its ornamental disguises,--so slender, yet piercing!"
"A needle can pain like a sword-blade. There goes the moon in clouds.
Hark! What was that? A cry?" And he started to his feet.
"No," she said,--"it is only the wild music of the lake, the voices of
shadows calling to shadows."
"There it is again, but fainter; the wind carries it the other way."
"It is a desolating wind."
"And the light on the land is like that of eclipse!"
He stooped and raised her and folded her in his arms.
"I have a strange, terrible sense of calamity, _Mignonne!_" he said.
"Let it strike, so it spare you!"
"Nothing can harm us," she replied, clinging to him. "Even death cannot
come between us!"
"Marguerite!" said Mr. Laudersdale, entering, "where is your mother?"
"She went down to the lake, Sir."
"She cannot possibly have gone out upon it!"
"Oh, she frequently does; and so do we all."
"But this high wind has risen since. The flaws"----And he went out
There flashed on Mr. Raleigh's mental sight a vision of the moonlit
lake, one instant. A boat, upon its side, bending its white sail down
the depths; a lifted arm wound in the fatal rope; a woman's form,
hanging by that arm, sustained in the dark transparent tide of death;
the wild wind blowing over, the moonlight glazing all. For that instant
he remained still as stone; the next, he strode away, and dashed down
to the lake-shore. It seemed as if his vision yet continued. They had
already put out in boats; he was too late. He waited in ghastly suspense
till they rowed home with their slow freight. And then his arm supported
the head with its long, uncoiling, heavy hair, and lifted the limbs,
round which the drapery flowed like a pall on sculpture, till another
man took the burden from him and went up to the house with his dead.
* * * * *
When Mr. Raleigh entered the house again, it was at break of dawn. Some
one opened the library-door and beckoned him in. Marguerite sprang into
"What if she had died?" said Mrs. Purcell, with her swift satiric
breath, and folding a web of muslin over her arm. "See! I had got out
the shroud. As it is, we drink _skal_ and say grace at breakfast. The
funeral baked-meats shall coldly furnish forth the marriage-feast. You
men are all alike. _Le Roi est mort? Vive la Reine!_"
* * * * *
PAUL REVERE'S RIDE.
Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.
He said to his friend,--"If the British march
By land or sea from the town to-night,
Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry-arch
Of the North-Church-tower, as a signal-light,--
One if by land, and two if by sea;
And I on the opposite shore will be,
Ready to ride and spread the alarm
Through every Middlesex village and farm,
For the country-folk to be up and to arm."
Then he said good-night, and with muffled oar
Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,
Just as the moon rose over the bay,
Where swinging wide at her moorings lay
The Somersett, British man-of-war:
A phantom ship, with each mast and spar
Across the moon, like a prison-bar,
And a huge, black hulk, that was magnified
By its own reflection in the tide.
Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street
Wanders and watches with eager ears,
Till in the silence around him he hears
The muster of men at the barrack-door,
The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,
And the measured tread of the grenadiers
Marching down to their boats on the shore.
Then he climbed to the tower of the church,
Up the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,
To the belfry-chamber overhead,
And startled the pigeons from their perch
On the sombre rafters, that round him made
Masses and moving shapes of shade,--
Up the light ladder, slender and tall,
To the highest window in the wall,
Where he paused to listen and look down
A moment on the roofs of the town,
And the moonlight flowing over all.
Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead
In their night-encampment on the hill,
Wrapped in silence so deep and still,
That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,
The watchful night-wind, as it went
Creeping along from tent to tent,
And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"