Part 6 out of 8
He started to his feet. His face was averted from me.
"Ha! was I not right? I knew it! I saw through it from the first;
and, though I did not tell the old man THAT, I was pretty sure that
you were trespassing upon your neighbor's grounds. Ha! what say you?
Was I not right? Were yon not stealing to forbidden places--playing
the snake, on a small scale, in some blind man's Eden? Ha! ha! what
say you to that? I am right, am I not? eh?"
I clapped him on the shoulder as I spoke. His face had been half
averted from me while I was speaking; but now it turned upon me,
and his glance met mine, teeming with inquisitive horror.
"No! no! you are not right!" he faltered out; "it is not so.
Nothing is the matter with me! I am quite well--quite! I will see
my father, and set him right."
"Do so," I said, coolly and indifferently--"do so; tell him what you
please: but you can't change my conviction that you're after some
pretty woman, and probably poaching on some neighbor's territory.
Come, make me your confidante, Edgerton. Let us know the history
of your misfortune. Is the lady pliant? I should judge so, since
you continue to spend so many nights away from home. Come, make a
clean breast of it. Out with your secret! I have always been your
friend. WE COULD NOT BETRAY EACH OTHER, I THINK!"
"You are quite mistaken," he said, with the effort of one who is
half strangled. "There is nothing in it; I assure you, you were
never more mistaken."
"Pshaw, Edgerton! you may blind papa, but you can not blind me.
Keep your secret, if you please, but, if you provoke me, I will
trace it out; I will unkennel you. If I do not show the sitting
hare in a fortnight, by the course of the hunter, tell me I am none
His consternation increased, but I did not allow it to disarm me. I
probed him keenly, and in such a manner as to make him wince with
apprehension at every word which I uttered. Morally, William Edgerton
was a brave man. Guilt alone made him a coward. It actually gave
me pain, after a while, to behold his wretched imbecility. He hung
upon my utterance with the trembling suspense of one whose eye has
become enchained with the fascinating gaze of the serpent. I put
my questions and comments home to him, on the assumption that he
was playing the traitor with another's wife; though taking care,
all the while, that my manner should be that of one who has no sort
of apprehensions on his own score. My deportment and tone tallied
well with the practised indifference which had distinguished my
previous overt conduct. It deceived him on that head; but the truth,
like a sharp knife, was no less keen in penetrating to his soul;
and, preserving my coolness and directness, with that singular
tenacity of purpose which I could maintain in spite of my own
sufferings--and keep them still unsuspected--I did not scruple to
impel the sharp iron into every sensitive place within his bosom.
He writhed visibly before me. His struggles did not please me, but
I sought to produce them simply because they seemed so many proofs
confirming the truth of my conjectures. The fiend in my own soul
kept whispering, "He has it!"--and a fatal spell, not unlike that
which riveted his attention to the language which tore and vexed
him, urged me to continue it until at length the sting became too
keen for his endurance. In very desperation, he broke away from
the fetters of that fascination of terror which had held him for
one mortal hour to the spot.
"No more! no more!" he exclaimed, with an uncontrollable burst
of emotion. "You torture me! I can stand it no longer! There is
nothing in your conjecture! There is no reason for your suspicions!
I could not suppress the involuntary exclamation. The truth seemed
to be at hand. I was premature. My utterance brought him to his
senses. He stopped, looked at me wildly for an instant, his eyes
dilated almost to bursting. He seemed suddenly to be conscious that
the secrets of his soul--its dark, uncommissioned secrets--were
about to force themselves into sight and speech; and unable, perhaps,
to arrest them in any other way he darted headlong from my presence.
With his departure sunk the spirit which had sustained me. I had
not gone through that scene willingly; I had suffered quite as
many pangs as himself. I had made my own misery, though disguised
under the supposed condition of another, the subject of my own
mockery; and if I succeeded in driving the iron into HIS soul,
the other end of the shaft was all the while working in mine! His
flight was an equal relief to both of us. The stern spirit left me
from that moment. My agony found relief, momentary though it was,
in a sudden gush of tears. My hot, heavy head sank upon my palms,
and I groaned in unreserved homage to the never-slumbering genius
of pain--that genius which alone is universal--which adopts us from
the cradle--which distinguishes our birth by our tears, hallows
the sentiment of grief to us from the beginning, and maintains
the fountains which supply its sorrows to the end. The lamb skips,
the calf leaps, the fawn bounds, the bird chirps, the young colt
frisks; all things but man enjoy life from its very dawn. He alone
is feeble, suffering. His superior pangs and sorrows are the first
proofs of his singular and superior destiny.
Bitter was the gush of tears that rolled from the surcharged fountains
of my heart; bitter, but free-flowing to my relief, at the moment
when my head seemed likely to burst with a volcanic volume within
it, and when a blistering arrow seemed slowly to traverse, to and
fro, the most sore and shrineing passages of my soul. Had not
Edgerton fled, I could not have sustained it much longer. My passions
would have hurled aside my judgment, and mocked that small policy
under which I acted. I felt that they were about to speak, and
rejoiced that he fled. Had he remained, I should most probably have
poured forth all my suspicion, all my hate; dragged by violence
from his lips the confession of his wrong, and from his heart the
last atonement for it.
At first I reproached myself that I had not done so. I accused
myself of tameness--the dishonorable tameness of submitting to
indignity--the last of all indignities--and of conferring calmly,
even good-humoredly, with the wrong-doer. But cooler moments came.
A brief interval sufficed--helped by the flood of tears which
rushed, hot and scalding, from my eyes--to subdue the angry spirit.
I remembered my pledges to the father; my unspeakable obligations
to him; and when I again recollected that my convictions had not
assailed the purity of my wife, and, at most, had questioned her
affections only, my forbearance seemed justified.
But could the matter rest where it was? Impossible! What was to be
done? It was clear enough that the only thing that could be done,
for the relief of all parties, was to be done by myself. Edgerton
was suffering from a guilty pursuit. That pursuit, if still urged,
might be successful, if not so at present. The constant drip of
the water will wear away the stone; and if my wife could submit
to impertinent advances without declaring them to her husband, the
work of seduction was already half done. To listen is, in half the
number of cases, to fall. I must save her; I had not the courage
to put her from me. Believing that she was still safe, I resolved,
through the excess of that love which was yet the predominant
passion in my soul, in spite of all its contradictions, to keep her
so, if human wit could avail, and human energy carry its desires
into successful completion.
To do this, there was but one process. That was flight. I must
leave this city--this country. By doing so, I remove my wife from
temptation, remove the temptation from the unhappy young man whom
it is destroying; and thus, though by a sacrifice of my own comforts
and interests, repay the debt of gratitude to my benefactor in the
only effective manner. It called for no small exercise of moral
courage and forbearance--no small benevolence--to come to this
conclusion. It must be understood that my professional business was
becoming particularly profitable. I was rising in my profession.
My clients daily increased in number; my acquaintance daily increased
in value. Besides, I loved my birthplace--thrice-hallowed--the only
region in my eyes--
"The spot most worthy loving Of all beneath the sky."
But the sacrifice was to be made; and my imagination immediately
grew active for my compensation, by describing a woodland home--a
spot, remote from the crowd, where I should carry my household gods,
and set them up for my exclusive and uninvaded worship. The whole
world-wide West was open to me. A virgin land, rich in natural
wealth and splendor, it held forth the prospect of a fair field
and no favor to every newcomer. There it is not possible to keep
in thraldom the fear less heart and the active intellect. There,
no petty circle of society can fetter the energies or enfeeble
the endeavors. No mocking, stale conventionalities can usurp the
place of natural laws, and put genius and talent into the accursed
strait-jacket of routine! Thither will I go. I remembered the late
conference with my friend Kingsley, and the whole course of my
reasoning on the subject of my removal was despatched in half an
hour. "I will go to Alabama."
Such was my resolution. I was the man to make sudden resolutions.
This, however, reasoned upon with the utmost circumspection, seemed
the very best that I could make. My wife, yet pure, was rescued
from the danger that threatened her; I was saved the necessity of
taking a life so dear to my benefactor; and the unhappy young man
himself--the victim to a blind passion--having no longer in his sight
the temptation which misled him, would be left free to return to
better thoughts, and the accustomed habits of business and society.
I had concluded upon my course in the brief interval which followed
my interview with William Edgerton and my return home.
The next day I saw his father. I communicated the assurance of
the son, and renewed my own, that neither drunkenness nor gaming
was a vice. What it was that afflicted him I did not pretend to
know, but I ascribed it to want of employment; a morbid, unenergetic
temperament; the fact that he was independent, and had no rough
necessities to make him estimate the true nature and the objects
of life; and, at the close, quietly suggested that possibly there
was some affair of the heart which contributed also to his suffering.
I did not deny that his looks were wretched, but I stoutly assured
the old man that his parental fears exaggerated their wretchedness.
We had much other talk on the subject. When we were about to separate
for the day, I declared my own determination in this manner:--
"I have just decided on a step, Mr. Edgerton, which perhaps will
somewhat contribute to the improvement of your son, by imposing some
additional tasks upon him. I am about to emigrate for the southwest."
"You, Clifford? Impossible! What puts that into your head?"
It was something difficult to furnish any good reason for such a
movement. The only obvious reason spoke loudly for iny remaining
where I was.
"This is unaccountable," said he. "You are doing here as few young
men have done before you. Your business increasing--your income
already good--surely, Clifford, you have not thought upon the
matter--you are not resolved."
I could plead little other than a truant disposition for my proceeding,
but I soon convinced him that I was resolved. He seemed very much
troubled; betrayed the most flattering concern in my interests;
and, renewing his argument for my stay, renewed also his warmest
professions of service.
"I had hoped," he said, "to have seen you and William, closely
united, pursuing the one path equally and successfully together.
I shall have no hopes of him if you leave us."
"The probability is, sir, that he will do better with the whole
responsibility of the office thrown upon him."
"No! no!" said the old man, mournfully. "I have no hope of him.
There seems to me a curse upon wealth always--that follows and
clings to it, and never leaves it, till it works out the ruin of
all the proprietors. See the number of our young men, springing
from nothing, that make everything out of it--rise to eminence and
power--get fortune as if it were a mere sport to command and to
secure it; while, on the other Sand, look at the heirs of our proud
families. Profligate, reckless, abandoned: as if, reasoning from
the supposed wealth of their parents, they fancied that there were
no responsibilities of their own. I saw this danger from the beginning.
I have striven to train up my son in the paths of duty and constant
employment; and yet--but complaint is idle. The consciousness of
having tried my best to have and make it otherwise is, nevertheless,
a consolation. When do you think to go?"
"In a week or two at farthest. I have but to rid myself of my
"Always prompt; but it is best. Once resolved, action is the moral
law. Still, I wish I could delay you. I still think you are committing
a great error. I can not understand it. You have established
yourself. This is not easy anywhere. You will find it difficult in
a new country, and among strangers."
"Nay, sir, more easy there than anywhere else. If a man has anything
in him, strangers and a new country are the proper influences to
bring it out. Friends and an old community keep it down, suppress,
strangle it. This is the misfortune of your son. He has family,
friends--resources which defeat all the operations of moral courage,
and prevent independence. Necessity is the moral lever. Do you
forget the saying of one of the wise men? 'If you wish your son
to become a man, strip him naked and send him among strangers'--in
other words, throw him upon his own resources, and let him take
care of himself. The not doing this is the source of that misfortune
which only now you deplored as so commonly following the condition
of the select and wealthy. I do not fear the struggle in a new
country. It will end in my gaining my level, be that high or low.
Nothing, in such a region, can keep a man from that."
"Ay, but the roughness of those new countries--the absence of
refinement--the absolute want of polish and delicacy."
"The roughness will not offend me, if it is manly. The world is full
of it. To be anything, a man must not have too nice a stomach. Such
a stomach will make him recoil from sights of misery and misfortune;
and he who recoils from such sights, will be the last to relieve,
to repair them. But while I admit the roughness and the want
of polish among these frontier men, I deny the want of delicacy.
Their habits are rude and simple, perhaps, but their tastes are
pure and unaffected, and their hearts in the right place. They
have strong affections; and strong affections, properly balanced,
are the true sources of the better sort of delicacy. All other is
merely conventional, and consists of forms and phrases, which are
very apt to keep us from the thing itself which they are intended
to represent. Give me these frank men and women of the frontier,
while my own feelings are yet strong and earnest. Here, I am
perpetually annoyed by the struggle to subdue within the social
limits the expression of that nature which is for ever boiling
up within me, and the utterance of which is neither more nor less
than the heart's utterance of the faith and hope which are in it.
We are told of those nice preachers who 'never mention hell to ears
polite.' They are the preachers of your highly-refined, sentimental
society. Whatever hell may be, they are the very teachers that,
by their mincing forbearance, conduct the poor soul that relies on
them into its jaws. It is a sort of lie not to use the properest
language to express our thoughts, but rather so to falsify our
thoughts by a sort of lack-a-daisaical phraseology which deprives
them of all their virility. A nation or community is in a bad way
for truth, when there is a tacit understanding among their members
to deal in the diminutives of a language, and forbear the calling
of things by their right names. An Englishman, wishing to designate
something which is graceful, pleasing, delicate, or fine, uses
the word 'nice'--more fitly applied to bon-bons or beefsteaks,
according to the stomach of the speaker. An energetic form of
speech is rated, in fashionable society, as particularly vulgar.
In our larger American cities, where they have much pretension but
little character, a leg must not be spoken of as such. You may say
'limb,' but not 'leg.' The word 'woman'--one of the sweetest in the
language--is supposed to disparage the female to whom it is applied.
She must be called a 'lady,' forsooth; and this word, originally
intended to pacify an aristocratic vanity, has become the ordinary
appellative of every member of that gross family which, in the
language of Shakspere, is only fit to 'suckle fools and chronicle
small beer.' I shall be more free, and feel more honest in that
rough world of the west; a region in which the dilettantism, such
as it is, of our Atlantic cities, is always very prompt to sneer
at and disparage; but I look to see the day, even in our time, when
that west shall be, not merely an empire herself, but the nursing
mother of great empires. There shall be a genius born in that vast,
wide world--a rough, unlicked genius it may be, but one whose
words shall fall upon the hills like thunder, and descend into the
valleys like a settled, heavy rain, which shall irrigate them all
with a new life. Perhaps--"
I need not pursue this. I throw it upon paper with no deliberation.
It streams from me like the rest. Its tone was somewhat derived
from those peculiar, sad feelings, and that pang-provoking course
of thought, which it has been the purpose of this narrative to
embody. In the expression of digressive but earnest notions like
these, I could momentarily divert myself from deeper and more
painful emotions. I had really gone through a great trial: I say
a great trial--always assuming human indulgence for that disease
of the blind heart which led me where I found myself, which makes
me what I am. I did not feel lightly the pang of parting with my
birthplace. I did not esteem lightly the sacrifice of business,
comfort, and distinction which I was making; and of that greater
cause of suffering, supposed or real, of the falling off in my
wife's affection, the agony is already in part recorded. It may
be permitted to me, perhaps, under these circumstances--with the
additional knowledge, which I yet suppressed, that these sacrifices
were to be made, and these sufferings endured, partly that the
son might be saved--to speak with some unreserved warmth of tone
to the venerable and worthy sire. He little knew how much of my
determination to remove from my country was due to my regard for
him. I felt assured that, if I remained, two things must happen.
William Edgerton would persevere in his madness, and I should murder
him in his perseverance! I banished myself in regard for that old
man, and in some measure to requite his benefactions, that I might
be spared this necessity.
When, the next day, I sought William Edgerton himbelf, and declared
my novel determination, he turned pale as death. I could see that
his lips quivered. I watched him closely. He was evidently racked
by an emotion which was more obvious from the necessity he was
under of suppressing it. With considerable difficulty he ventured
to ask my reasons for this strange step, and with averted countenance
repeated those which his father had proffered against my doing
so. I could see that he fain would have urged his suggestions more
vehemently if he dared. But the conviction that his wishes were
the fathers to his arguments was conclusive to render him careful
that his expostulations should not put on a show of earnestness.
I must do William Edgerton the justice to say that guilt was not
his familiar. He could not play the part of the practised hypocrite.
He had no powers of artifice. He could not wear the flowers upon
his breast, having the volcano within it. Professionally, he could
be no roué. He could seem no other than he was. Conscious of guilt,
which he had not the moral strength to counteract and overthrow,
he had not, at the same time, the art necessary for its concealment.
He could use no smooth, subtle blandishments. His cheek and eye
would tell the story of his mind, though it strove to make a false
presentment. I do him the further justice to believe that a great
part of his misery arose from this consciousness of his doing
wrong, rather than from the difficulties in the way of his success.
I believe that, even were he successful in the prosecution of
his illicit purposes, he would not have looked or felt a jot less
miserable. I felt, while we conferred together, that my departure
was perhaps the best measure for his relief. While I mused upon his
character and condition, my anger yielded in part to commiseration.
I remembered the morning-time of our boyhood--when we stood up
for conflict with our young enemies, side by side--obeyed the same
rallying-cry, recognised the same objects, and were a sort of David
and Jonathan to one another. Those days!--they soothed and softened
me while I recalled them. My tone became less keen, my language
less tinctured with sarcasm, when I thought of these things; and
I thought of our separation without thinking of its cause.
"I leave you, Edgerton, with one regret--not that we part, for life
is full of partings, and the strong mind must be reconciled with
them, or it is nothing--but that I leave you so unlike your former
self. I wish I could do something for you."
I gave him my hand as as I spoke. He did not grasp--he rather
shrunk from it. An uncontrollable burst of feeling seemed suddenly
to gush from him as he spoke:--
"Take no heed of me, Clifford--I am not worthy of YOUR thought."
"Ha! What do you mean?"
He spoke hastily, in manifest discomfiture:--
"I am worthy of no man's thought."
"Pshaw! you are a hypochondriac."
"Would it were that!--But you go!--when?"
"In a week, perhaps."
"So soon? So very soon? Do you--do you carry your family with you
There was great effort to speak this significant inquiry. I perceived
that. I perceived that his eyes were on the ground while it was
made. The question was offensive to me. It had a strange and painful
significance. It recalled the whole cause, the bitter cause of my
resolve for exile; and I could not control the altered tones of
my voice in answering, which I did with some causticity of feeling,
which necessarily entered into my utterance.
"Family, surely! My wife only! No great charge, I'm thinking, and
her health needs an early change. Would you have me leave HER? I
have no other family, you know!"
The dialogue, carried on with restraint before, was shortened by
this; and, after a few business remarks, which were necessary to
our office concerns, he pleaded an engagement to get away. He left
me with some soreness upon my mind, which formed its expression in
a brief soliloquy.
"You would have the path made even freer than before, would you?
It does not content you, these long morning meditations--these
pretended labors of the painting-room, the suspicious husband
withdrawn, and the wife, neither scorning nor consenting, willing
to believe in that devotion to the art which is properly a devotion
to herself? These are not sufficient opportunities, eh? There
were--more room for landscape, appoint you, Mr. Edgerton!--Ah!
could I but know all. Could I be sure that she did love him! Could
I be sure that she did not! That is the curse--that doubt!--Will
it remain so? No! no! Once removed--once in those forest regions,
it can not be that she will repine for anything. She MUST love me
then--she will feel anew the first fond passion. She will forget
these passing fancies. They WILL pass! She is young. The image
will haunt her no longer--at least, it will no longer haunt me!"
So I spoke, but I was not so sure of that last. The doubt did not
trouble me, however. Sufficient for the day is the evil thereof.
But I had another test yet to try. I wished to see how Julia would
receive the communication of my purpose. As yet she knew nothing
of my contemplated departure. "It will surprise her," I thought to
myself. "In that surprise she will show how much our removal will
But when I made known to her my intention, the surprise was all
my own. The communication did not seemed to distress her at all.
Surprise her it did, but the surprise seemed a pleasant one. It
spoke out in a sudden flashing of the eye, a gentle smiling of the
mouth, which was equally unexpected and grate ful to my heart.
"I am delighted with the idea!" she exclaimed, putting her arms
about my neck. "I think we shall be so happy there. I long to get
away from this place."
"Indeed! But are you serious?"
"To be sure."
"I was apprehensive it might distress you."
"Oh! no! no! I have been dull and tired here, for a long while; and
I thought, when you told me that Mr. Kingsley had gone to Alabama,
how delightful it would be if we could go too."
"But you never told me that."
"Nor even looked it, Julia."
"Surely not--I should have been loath to have you think, while
your business was so prosperous, and you seemed so well satisfied
here, that I had any discontent."
"I satisfied!" I said this rather to myself than her.
"Yes, were you not? I had no reason to think otherwise. Nay, I
feared you were too well satisfied, for I have seen so little of
you of late. I'm sure I wished we were anywhere, so that you could
find your home more to your liking."
"And have such notions really filled your brain Julia?"
"And you have found me a stranger--you have missed me?"
"Ah! do you not know it, Edward?"
"You shall have no need to reproach me hereafter. We will go
to Alabama, and live wholly for one another. I shall leave you in
business time only, and hurry back as soon as I can"
"Ah, promise me that?"
"We shall be so happy then. Then we shall take our old rambles,
Edward, though in new regions, and will resume the pencil, if you
This was said timidly.
"To be sure I wish it. But why do you say, 'resume'? Have you not
been painting all along?"
"No! I have scarcely smeared canvass the last two months"
"But you have been sketching?"
"What employed you then in the studio? How have you passed your
This inquiry was made abruptly, but it did not disturb her. Her
answer was strangely satisfactory.
"I have scarcely looked in upon the studio in all that time."
I longed to ask what Edgerton had done with himself, and whether he
had been suffered to employ himself alone, in his morning visits,
but my tongue faltered--I somehow dared not. Still, it was something
to have her assurance that she had not found her attractions in
that apartment in which my jealous fancy had assumed that she took
particular delight. She had spoken with the calmness of innocence,
and I was too happy to believe her. I put my arms about her waist.
"Yes, we will renew the old habits, for I suppose that business
there will be less pressing, less exacting, than I have found it
here. We will take our long walks, Julia, and make up for lost time
in new sketches. You have thought me a truant, Julia--neglectful
hitherto! Have you not?"
"Ah, Edward!"--Her eyes filled with tears, but a smile, like rainbow,
made them bright.
"Say, did you not?"
"Do not be angry with me if I confess I thought you very much
altered in some respects. I was fearful I had vexed you."
"You shall have no more reason to fear. We shall be the babes
in the wood together. I am sure we shall be quite happy, left to
ourselves. No doubts, no fears--nothing but love. And you are really
willing to go?"
"Willing! I wish it! I can get ready in a day."
"You have but a week. But, have you no reluctance? Is there nothing
that you regret to leave? Speak freely, Julia. Your mother, your
friends--would you not prefer to remain with them?"
She placed her hands on my shoulders, laid her head close to my bosom
and murmured--how softly, how sweetly--in the touching language of
the Scripture damsel.
"Entreat me not to leave thee, or to refrain from following after
thee; for whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest,
I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God!"
I folded her with tremulous but deep joy in my embrace; and in that
sweet moment of peace, I wondered that I ever should have questioned
the faith of such a woman.
"AND STILL THE BITTER IN THE CUP OF JOY."
Once more I had sunshine. The clouds seemed to depart as suddenly
as they had risen, and that same rejoicing and rosy light which had
encircled the brow of manhood at its dawn long shrouded, seemingly
lost for ever, and swallowed up in darkness--came out as softly
and quietly in the maturer day, as if its sweet serene had never
known even momentary obscuration.
Love, verily, is the purple light of youth. If it abides, blessing
and blessed, with the unsophisticated heart, youth never leaves
us. Gray brows make not age--the feeble step, the wrinkled visage,
these indicate the progress of time, but not the passage of youth.
Happy hearts keep us in perpetual spring, and the glow of childhood
without its weaknesses is ours to the final limit of seventy. The
sense of desolation, the pang of denial, the baffled hope, and the
defrauded love, these constitute the only age that should ever give
the heart a pang. I can fancy a good man advancing through all the
mortal stages from seventeen to seventy-five, and crowned by the
sympathies of corresponsive affections, simply going on from youth
to youth, ending at last in youth's perfect immortality!
The hope of this--not so much a hope as an instinct--is the faith
of our boyhood. The boy, as the father of the man, transmits this
hope to riper years; but if the experience of the day correspond
not with the promise of the dawn, how rapidly old age comes upon
us! White hairs, lean cheeks, withered muscles, feeble steps, and
that dull, dead feeling about the heart--that utter abandonment
of cheer--which would be despair were it not for a certain blunted
sensibility--a sort of drowsy indifference to all things that the
day brings forth, which, as it takes from life the excitement of
every passion, leaves it free from the sting of any. Yet, were not
the tempest better than the calm? Who would not prefer to be driven
before the treacherous hurricane of the blue gulf, than to linger
midway on its shoreless waters, and behold their growing stagnation
from day to day? The apathy of the passions is the most terrible
form in which age makes its approaches.
With an earnest, sanguine temperament, such as mine, there is
little danger of such apathy, The danger is not from lethargy but
madness. I had escaped this danger. It was surprising, even to
myself, how suddenly my spirits had arisen from the pressure that
had kept them down. In a moment, as it were, that mocking troop
of fears and sorrows which environed me, took their departure. It
seemed that it was only necessary for me to know that I was about
to lose the presence of William Edgerton to find this relief.
And yet, how idle! With an intense egoisme, such as mine, I should
conjure up an Edgerton in the deepest valleys of our country.
We have our gods and devils in our own hearts. The nature of the
deities we worship depends upon our own. In a savage state, the
Deity is savage, and expects bloody sacrifices; with the progress
of civilization his attributes incline to mercy. The advent of Jesus
Christ indicated the advance of the Hebrews to a higher sense of
the human nature. It was the advent of the popular principle, which
has been advancing steadily ever since and keeping due pace with
the progress of Christian education. The people were rising at the
expense of the despotism which had kept them down. It does not affect
the truth of this to show that the polish of the Jewish nation was
lessened at this period. Nay, rather proves it, since the diffusion
of a truth or a power must always lessen its intensity In teaching,
for the first time, the doctrine of the soul's immortality, the
Savior laid the foundation of popular rights, in the elevation of
the common humanity--since he thus showed the equal importance, in
the sight of God, of every soul that had ever taken shape beneath
The demon which had vexed and tortured me was a demon of my own
soliciting--of my own creation. But, I knew not this. I congratulated
myself on escaping from him. Blind fancy!--I little knew the insidious
pertinacity of this demon--this demon of the blind heart. I little
knew the nature of his existence, and how much he drew his nutriment
from the recesses of my own nature. He could spare, or seem to
spare, the victim of whom he was so sure; and by a sort of levity,
in no ways unaccountable, since we see it in the play of cat with
mouse, could indulge with temporary liberty, the poor captive of
whom he was at any moment certain. I congratulated myself on my
escape; but I was not so well pleased with the congratulations of
others. I was doomed to endure those of my exemplary mother-in-law,
Mrs. Delaney. That woman had her devil--a worse devil, though not
more troublesome, I think, than mine. She said to me, when she
heard of my purpose of removal: "You are right to remove. It is
only prudent. Pity you had not gone some months ago."
I read her meaning, where her language was ambiguous, in her sharp,
leering eyes--full of significance--an expression of mysterious
intelligence, which, mingled with a slight, sinister smile
upon her lips, for a moment, brought a renewal of all my tortures
and suspicions. She saw the annoyance which I felt, and strove to
increase it. I know not--I will not repeat--the occasional innuendos
which she allowed herself to utter in the brief space of a twenty
minutes' interview. It is enough to say that nothing could be more
evident than her desire to vex me with the worst pangs which a man
can know, even though her success in the attempt was to be attained
at the expense of her daughter's peace of mind and reputation. I
do not believe that she ever hinted to another, what she clearly
enough insinuated as a cause of fear to me. Her purpose was to
goad me to madness, and in her witless malice, I do believe she
was utterly unconscious of the evil that might accrue to the child
of her own womb from her base and cruel suggestions. I wished to
get from her these suggestions in a more distinct form. I wished
at the same time, to deprive her of the pleasure of seeing that I
understood her. I restrained myself accordingly, though the vulture
was then again at my vitals.
"What do you mean. Mrs. Delaney? Why is it a pity that I hadn't
gone months ago?"
"Oh! that's enough for me to know. I have my reasons."
"But, will you not suffer me to know them? I am conscious of no
evil that has arisen from my not going sooner."
"Indeed! Well, if you are not, I can only say you're not so
keen-sighted a lawyer as I thought you were. That's all."
"If you think I would have made out better, got more practice, and
made more money in Alabama, that, I must tell you, has been long
since my own opinion."
"No! I don't mean that--it has no regard to business and
money-making--what I mean."
"Ah! what can it have regard to? You make me curious, Mrs. Delaney."
"Well, that may be; but I'm not going to satisfy your curiosity.
I thought you had seen enough for yourself. I'm sure you're the
only one that has not seen."
"Upon my soul, Mrs. Delaney, you are quite a mystery."
"Oh! am I?"
"I can't dive into such depths. I'm ignorant."
"Tell those that know you no better. But you can't blind me. I
know that you know--and more than that, I can guess what's carrying
you to Alabama. It's not law business, I know that."
I was vexed enough, as may be supposed, at this malicious pertinacity,
but I kept down my struggling gorge with a resolution which I had
been compelled often enough to exercise before; and quietly ended
the interview by taking my hat and departure, as I said:--
"You are certainly a very sagacious lady, Mrs. Delaney; but
I must leave you, and wait your own time to make these mysterious
revelations. My respects to Mr. Delaney. Good morning."
"Oh, good morning; but let me tell you, Mr. Clifford, if you don't
see, it's not because you can't. Other people can see without
My preparations were soon completed. I worked with the spirit of
enthusiasm--I had so many motives to be active; and, subordinate
among these, but still important, I should get out of the reach
of this very woman. I could not beat her myself but I wished her
husband might do it, and not to anticipate my own story, he did
so in less than three months after. He was the man too, to perform
such a labor with unction and emphasis. A vigorous man with muscles
like bolt-ropes, and limbs that would have been respectable in the
days of Goliah. I met him on leaving the steps of Mrs. Delaney's
lodgings, and--thinking of the marital office I wished him to
perform--I was rejoiced to discover that he was generously drunk--in
the proper spirit for such deeds in the flesh.
He seized my hand with quite a burst of enthusiasm, swore I was a
likely fellow, and somehow he had a liking for me.
"Though, to be sure, my dear fellow, it's not Mrs. Delaney that
loves any bone in your skin. She's a lady that, like most of the
dear creatures, has a way of her own for thinking. She does her own
thinking, and what can a woman know about such a business. It's
to please her that I sit by and say nothing; and a wife must be
permitted some indulgence while the moon lasts, which the poets
tell us, is made out of honey: but it's never a long moon in these
days, and a small cloud soon puts an end to it. Wait till that
time, Mr. Clifford, and I'll put her into a way of thinking, that'll
please you and myself much better."
I thanked him for his good opinion, and civilly wished him--as it
was a matter which seemed to promise him so much satisfaction--that
the duration of the honeymoon should be as short as possible. He
thanked me affectionately--grasped my hand with the squeeze of a
blacksmith, and entreated that I should go back and take a drink of
punch with him. As an earnest of what he could give me, he pulled a
handful of lemons from his pocket which he had bought from a shop
by the way. I need not say I expressed my gratitude, though I
declined his invitation. I then told him I was about to remove to
Alabama, and he immediately proposed to go along with me. I reminded
him that he was just married, and it would be expected of him that
he would see the honeymoon out.
"Ah, faith!" he replied, "and there's sense in what you say; it
must be done, I suppose; but devil a bit, to my thinking, does any
moon last a month in this climate; and the first cloudy weather,
d'ye see, and I'm after you."
It was difficult to escape from the generous embraces of my ardent
father-in-law; and the whole street witnessed them.
That afternoon I spent in part with the Edgertons. I went soon after
my own dinner and found the family at theirs. William Edgerton
was present. The old man insisted that I should take a seat at
the table and join them in a bottle of wine, which I did. It was
a family, bearing apparently all the elements within itself of a
happiness the most perfect and profound. Particularly an amiable
family. Yet there was no insipidity. The father has already been
made known; the son should be by this time; the mother was one of
those strong-minded, simple women, whose mind may be expressed by
its most striking characteristic--independence. She had that most
obvious trait of aristocratic breeding, a quiet, indefinable,
easy dignity--a seemingly natural quality, easy itself, that puts
everybody at ease, and yet neither in itself nor in others suffered
the slightest approach to be made to unbecoming familiarity. A
sensible, gentlewoman--literally gentle--yet so calm, so firm, you
would have supposed she had never known one emotion calculated to
stir the sweet, glass-like placidity of her deportment.
And yet, amidst all this calm placidity, with an eye looking
benevolence, and a considerateness that took note of your smallest
want, she sustained the pangs of one yearning for her firstborn;
dissatisfied and disappointed in his career, and apprehensive for
his fate. The family was no longer happy. The worm was busy in all
their hearts. They treated me kindly, but it was obvious that they
were suffering. A visible constraint chilled and baffled conversation;
and I could see the deepening anxieties which clouded the face of
the mother, whenever her eye wandered in the direction of her son.
This it did, in spite, I am convinced, of her endeavors to prevent
I, too, could now look in the same quarter. My feelings were less
bitter than they were, and William Edgerton shared in the change.
I did not the less believe him to have done wrong, but, in the
renewed conviction of my wife's purity, I could forgive him, and
almost think he was sufficiently punished in entertaining affections
which were without hope. Punished he was, whether by hopelessness
or guilt, and punished terribly. I could see a difference for the
worse in his appearance since I had last conferred with him. He was
haggard and spiritless to the last degree. He had few words while
we sat at table, and these were spoken only after great effort;
and, regarding him now with less temper than before, it seemed to
me that his parents had not exaggerated the estimate which they
had formed of his miserable appearance. He looked very much like
one, who had abandoned himself to nightly dissipation, and those
excesses of mind and body, which sap from both the saving and
elevating substance. I did not wonder that the old man ascribed
his condition to the bottle and the gaming-table. But that I knew
better, such would most probably have been my own conclusion.
The conversation was not general--confined chiefly to Mr. Edgerton
the elder and myself. Mrs. Edgerton remained awhile after the
cloth had been withdrawn, joining occasionally in what was said,
and finally left us, though with still a lingering, and a last look
toward her son, which clearly told where her heart was. William
Edgerton followed her, after a brief interval, and I saw no more
of him, though I remained for more than an hour. He had said but
little. It was with some evident effort, that he had succeeded in
uttering some general observation on the subject of the Alabama
prairies--those beautiful "gardens of the desert,"
"For which the speech of England has no name."
My removal had been the leading topic of our discourse, and when
I declared my intention to start on the very next day, and that
the present was a farewell visit, the emotion of the son visibly
increased. Soon after he left the room. When I was alone with the
father, he took occasion to renew his offer of service, and, in
such a manner, as to take from the offer its tone of service. He
seemed rather to ask a favor than to suggest one. Money he could
spare--the repayment should be at my own leisure--and my bond would
be preferable, he was pleased to say, to that of any one he knew.
I thanked him with becoming feelings, though, for the present,
I declined his assistance. I pledged myself, however, should
circumstances make it necessary for me to seek a loan, to turn, in
the first instance, to him. He had been emphatically my friend--THE
friend, sole, singular--never fluctuating in his regards, and never
stopping to calculate the exact measure of my deserts. I felt that
I could not too much forbear in reference to the son, having in
view the generous friendship of the father.
That day, and the night which followed it, was a long period with
me. I had to see many acquaintances, and attend to a thousand small
matters. I was on my feet the whole day, and even when the night
came I had no rest. I was in the city till near eleven o'clock. When
I got home I found that my wife had done her share of the tasks.
She had completed her preparations. Our luggage was all ready for
removal. To her I had assigned the labor of packing up her pictures,
her materials for painting, her clothes, and such other matters as
she desired to carry with us, to our new place of abode. The rest
was to be sold by a friend after our departure, and the proceeds
remitted. I knew I should need them all. Most of our baggage
was to be sent by water. We travelled in a private carriage, and
consequently, could take little. Julia, unlike most women, was
willing to believe with me that impediments are the true name for
much luggage; and, with a most unfeminine habit, she could limit
herself without reluctance to the merest necessities. We had no
bandboxes, baskets, or extra bundles, to be stuffed here and there,
filling holes and corners, and crowding every space, which should
be yielded entirely to the limbs of the traveller. Though sensitive
and delicate in a great degree, she had yet that masculine sense
which teaches that, in the fewness of our wants lies our truest
source of independence; and she could make herself ready for taking
stage or steamboat in quite as short a time as myself.
Her day's work had exhausted her. She retired, and when I went up
to the chamber, she already seemed to sleep. I could not. Fatigue,
which had produced exhaustion, had baffled sleep. Extreme
weariness becomes too much like a pain to yield readily to repose.
The moment that exercise benumbs the frame, makes the limbs ache,
the difficulty increases of securing slumber. I felt weary, but
I was restless also. I felt that it would be vain for me to go to
bed. Accordingly, I placed myself beside the window, and looked
out meditatingly upon the broad lake which lay before our dwelling.
The night was very calm and beautiful. The waters from the lake were
falling. Tide was going out, and the murmuring clack of a distant
sawmill added a strange sweetness to the hour, and mingled
harmoniously with the mysterious goings on of midnight. The starlight,
not brilliant, was yet very soft and touching. Isolated and small
clouds, like dismembered ravens' wings, flitted lightly along
the edge of the western horizon, shooting out at intervals brief,
brilliant flashes of lightning. There was a flickering breeze that
played with the shrubbery beneath my window, making a slight stir
that did not break the quiet of the scene, and gave a graceful
movement to the slender stems as they waved to and fro beneath its
pressure. A noble pride of India [Footnote: China tree: the melia
azedaracha of botanists. A tree peculiar to the south, of singular
beauty, and held in high esteem as a shade-tree.] rose directly
before my eyes to the south--its branches stretching almost from
within touch of the dwelling, over the fence of a neighbor. The
whole scene was fairy-like. I should find it indescribable. It
soothed my feelings. I had been the victim of a long and painful
moral conflict. At length I had a glimmering of repose. Events,
in the last few days--small events which, in themselves denoted
nothing--had yet spoken peace to my feelings. My heart was in that
dreamy state of languor, such as the body enjoys under the gradually
growing power of the anodyne, in which the breath of the summer
wind brings a language of luxury, and the most emperiest sights
and sounds in nature minister to a capacity of enjoyment, which is
not the less intoxicating and sweet because it is subdued. I mused
upon my own heart, upon the heart which I so much loved and had so
much distrusted--upon life, its strange visions, delusive hopes,
and the sweet efficacy of mere shadows in promoting one's happiness
et last. Then came, by natural degrees, the thought of that strange
mysterious union of light and darkness--life and death--the shadows
that we are; the substances that we are yet to be. The future!--still
it rose before me--but the darkness upon it alone showed me it was
there. It did not offend me, however, for my heart was glowing in
a present starlight. It was the hour of hopes rather than of fears;
and in the mere prospect of transition to the new--such is the
elastic nature of youth--I had agreed to forget every pang whether
of idea or fact, which had vexed and tortured me in the perished
past. My musings were all tender yet joyful--they partook of that
"joy of grief" of which the bard of Fingal tells us. I felt a big
tear gathering in my eye, I knew not wherefore. I felt my heart
growing feeble, with the same delight which one would feel at
suddenly recovering a great treasure which had been supposed for
ever lost. I fancied that I had recovered my treasure, and I rose
quietly, went to the bed where Julia lay sleeping peacefully,
and kissed her pale but lovely cheeks. She started, but did not
waken--a gentle sigh escaped her lips, and they murmured with some
indistinct syllables which I failed to distinguish. At that moment
the notes of a flute rose softly from the grove without.
In that same moment my pangs were all renewed; my repose of mind
departed; once more my heart was on fire, my spirit filled with
vague doubts, grief, and commotion. The soft, sweet, preluding note
of the player had touched a chord in my soul as utterly different
from that which it expressed, as could by any possibility be
conceived. Heart and hope were instantly paralyzed. Fear and its
train, its haunting spectres of suspicion, took possession of the
undefended citadel, and established guard upon its deserted outposts.
I tottered to the window which I had left--I shrouded myself in the
folds of the curtain, and as the strains rose, renewed and regular,
I struggled to keep in my breath, listening eagerly, as if the
complaining instrument could actually give utterance to the cruel
mystery which I equally dreaded and desired to hear.
The air which was played was such as I had never heard before.
Indeed, it could scarcely be called an air. It was the most
capricious burden of mournfulness that had ever had its utterance
from wo. Fancy a mute--one bereft of the divine faculty of speech,
by human, not divine ministration. Fancy such a being endowed with
the loftiest desires, moved by the acutest sensibilities, having
already felt the pleasures of life, yet doomed to a denial of
utterance, denied the language of complaint, and striving, struggling
through the imperfect organs of his voice to give a name to the
agony which works within him. That flute seemed to me to moan, and
sob, and shiver, with some such painful mode of expression as would
be permitted to the "half made-up" mortal of whom I have spoken. Its
broken tones, striving and struggling, almost rising at times into
a shriek, seemed of all things to complain of its own voicelessness.
And yet it had its melody--melody, to me, of the most vexing power.
I should have called the strain a soliloquizing one. It certainly
did not seem addressed to any ears. It wanted the continuance
of apostrophe. It was capricious. Sometimes the burden fell off
suddenly--broken--wholly interrupted--as if the vents had been all
simultaneously and suddenly stopped. Anon, it rose again--soul-piercing
if not loud--so abruptly, and with an utterance so utterly gone
with wo, that you felt sure the poor heart must break with the next
breath that came from the laboring and inefficient lungs. A "dying
fall" succeeding, seemed to afford temporary relief. It seemed as
if tears must have fallen upon the instrument, Its language grew
more methodical, more subdued, but not less touching. I fancied,
I felt, that, entering into the soul of the musician, I could give
the very words to the sentiment which his instrument vainly strove
to speak. What else but despair and utter self-abandonment was
in that broken language? The full heart over-burdened, breaking,
to find a vent for the feelings which it had no longer power to
contain. And yet; content to break, breaking with a melancholy sort
of triumph which seemed to say--
"Such a death has its own sweetness; love sanctifies the pang to
its victim. It is a sort of martyrdom. He who loves truly, though
he loves hopelessly, has not utterly loved in vain. The devoted
heart finds a joy in the offering, though the Deity withholds his
acceptance--though a sudden gust from heaven scatters abroad the
rich fruits which the devotee has placed upon the despised and
Such, I fancied, was the proud language of that melancholy music.
Had I been other than I was--nay, had I listened to the burden under
other circumstances and in another place--I should most probably
have felt nothing but sympathy for the musician. As it was, I
can not describe my feelings. All my racking doubts and miseries
returned. The tone of triumph which the strain conveyed wrought
upon me like an indignity. It seemed to denote that "foregone
conclusion" which had been my cause of apprehension so long. Could
it be then that Julia was really guilty? Could she have given William
Edgerton so much encouragement that triumph and exultation should
still mingle with his farewell accents of despair? Ah! what
fantasies preyed upon my soul; haunted the smallest movements of
my mind; conjured up its spectres, and gave bitterness to its every
beverage! When I thought thus of Julia, I rose cautiously from my
seat, approached the bed where she was lying, and gazed steadily,
though with the wildest thrill of emotion, into her face. I verily
believe had she not been sleeping at that moment--sleeping beyond
question--she would have shared the fate of
"The gentle lady wedded to the Moor."
I was in the mood for desperate things.
But she slept--her cheek upon her arm--pale, but oh! how beautiful!
and looking, oh! how pure! Her breathing was as tranquil and regular
as that of an infant. I felt, while I gazed, that hers must be
the purity of an infant also. I turned from beholding her, as the
renewed notes of the musician once more ascended to the chamber.
I again took my seat at the window and concealed myself behind the
curtain. Here I had been concealed but a few moments, when I heard
a rustling in the branches of the tree. Meanwhile, the music again
ceased. I peered cautiously from behind the drapery, and fancied I
beheld a dark object in the tree. It might be one of its branches,
but I had not been struck by it before. I waited in breathless
watchfulness. I saw it move. Its shape was that of a man. An
exulting feeling of violence filled my breast. I rose stealthily,
went into the dressing-room, and took up one of my pistols which
lay on the toilet, and which I had that afternoon prepared with a
"A brace of bullets," I muttered to myself, "will bring out another
sort of music from this rare bird."
With this murderous purpose I concealed myself once more behind the
curtain. The figure was sufficiently distinct for aim. The window
was not more than twelve or fourteen paces from the tree. My
nerves were now as steady as if I had been about to perform the
most ordinary action. What then prevented me? What stayed my arm?
A single thonght--a momentary recollection of an event which had
taken place in my boyhood. What a providence that it should have
occurred to me at that particular moment. The circumstance was
When first sent to school I had been frequently taken at advantage
by a bigger boy. He had twice my strength--he took a strong dislike
for me--perhaps, because I was unwilling to pay him that deference,
which, as school-bully, he extorted from all others;--and he drubbed
me accordingly, whenever an opportunity occurred. My resistance
was vain, and only stimulated him to increased brutality. One day
he was lying upon the grass, beneath an oak which stood in the
centre of a common on which we usually played. It happened that I
drew near him unperceived. In approaching him I had no purpose of
assault or violence. But the circumstance of my nearing him without
being seen, suggested to my mind a sudden thought of revenging
all my previous injuries. I felt bitterness and hate enough, had I
possessed the strength, to have slain a dozen. I do not know that
I had any design to slay him--to revenge myself was certainly my
wish. Of death probably I had no idea. I looked about me for the
agent of my vengeance. A pile of old brick which had formed the
foundations of a dwelling which had stood on the spot, and which had
been burned, conveniently presented itself to my eye. I possessed
myself of as large a fragment as my little hand could grasp; I
secured a second as a dernier resort. Slowly and slily--I may add,
basely--I approached him from behind, levelled the brick at his
head, and saw the blood fly an instant after the contact. He was
stunned by the blow, staggered up, however, with his eyes blinded
by blood, and moved after me like a drunken man. I receded slowly,
lifting the remaining fragment which I held, intending, if he
approached me, to repeat the blow.
On a sudden he fell forward sprawling. Then I thought him dead,
and for the first time the dreadful consciousness of my crime in
its true character, came to my mind. I can not describe the agony
of fear and horror which filled my soul. He did not die, but he
was severely hurt.
The recollection of that event--of what I then suffered--came to
me involuntarily, as I was about to perform a second similar crime.
I shuddered with the recollection of the past, and shrunk, under
the equal force of shame and conscience, from the performance of a
deed which, otherwise, I should probably have committed in the brief
time which I employed for reflection. With a feeling of nervous
horror I put the weapon aside, and sinking once more into the chair
beside the window I bore with what fortitude I might, the renewal
of the accursed but touching strains that vexed me.
William Edgerton was a master of the flute. Often before, when
we were the best friends, had I listened with delight, while he
compelled it into discourse of music wild and somewhat incoherent
still: his present performance had now attained more continuousness
and character. It was still mournful, but its sorrows rose and
fell naturally, in compliance with the laws of art. I listened till
I could listen no longer. Human patience must have its limits. My
wife still slept. I descended the stairs, opened the door with as
much cautiousness as possible, and prepared to grapple the musician
and haul him into the light.
It might be Edgerton or not. I was morally sure it was. By grappling
with him, in such a situation, I should bring the affair to a final
issue, though it might not be a murderous one. But of that I did
not think; I went forward to do something; what that something was
to be, it was left for time and chance to determine. But, suddenly,
as I opened the door, the music ceased. Stepping into the yard, I
heard the sound as of a falling body. I naturally concluded that
he had heard the opening of the door, and had suffered himself to
drop down to the ground. I took for granted that he had descended
on the opposite side of the yard and within the enclosure of a
neighbor. I leaped the fence, hurried to the tree, traversed the
grounds, and found nobody. I returned, reached my own premises,
and found the gate open which opened upon the street. He had gone
then in that direction. I turned into this street, posted with
all speed to the corner of the square and met only the watchman.
I asked, but he had seen nobody. The street was perfectly quiet,
I returned, reascended to my chamber, found Julia now awake, and
evidently much agitated. She had arisen in my absence, and was only
about to re-enter the bed when I rushed up stairs.
What was I to think? What fear? I was too conscious of the
suspicious nature of my thoughts and fears to suffer myself to ask
any questions--and she, unhappily for both of us--she said nothing.
Had she but spoken--had she but uttered the natural inquiry--"Did
you hear that strange music, husband?"--how much easier had been
her extrication. But she was silent, and I was again let loose upon
a wide sea of fears and doubts and damnable apprehensions. Once
more, and now with a feeling which would not have made me forbear
the use of any weapon, however deadly, I re-examined my own enclosure,
but in vain. The horrible thought which possessed me was that he
had even penetrated the dwelling while I was seeking him in the
street; that they had met; and how was I to know the degree of
tenderness which had marked their meeting and sweetness to their
THE NEW HOME.
With these revived suspicions, half stifled, but still struggling
in my bosom, did I commence my journey for the West. My arrangements
were comprehensive, but simple. I had procured a second-hand
travelling carriage and fine pair of horses from an acquaintance,
at a very moderate price--a price which, I well knew, I should easily
get for them again on reaching my place of destination. I was my
own driver. I had no money to spare in purchasing what might be
dispensed with. A single trunk contained all the necessary luggage
of my wife and self. What was not absolutely needed by the wayside
was sent on by water. This included my books, desks, Julia's painting
materials, and such other articles of the household, as were of
cost and not bulky. I had previously written--as I may have stated
already--to my friend Kingsley. He was to procure me temporary
lodgings in the town of M---. I left much to his judgment and
experience. He had once before been in Alabama and having interests
there, had made himself familiar with everything in that region,
necessary to be known. I put myself very much in his hands. I
was too anxious to get away to urge any difficulties or make any
troublesome requisitions. He was simply to procure me an abiding-place
in some private family--if possible in the suburbs--until I should
be able to look about me. Economy was insisted upon. I had precious
little money to spare, and even the spoils of my one night's visit
to the gaming-house, were of no small help in sustaining me in
my determination to remove. I had not applied them previously.
I confess to a feeling of shame when I was compelled by necessity
at last to use them. I had saved something already from my professional
income, and I procured an advance on my furniture which was left for
sale. I had calculated my expenses in removing and for one year's
residence in M--, and was prepared, so far as poor human foresight
may prepare itself, to keep want from our doors at least for
that period. I trusted to good fortune, my own resources, and the
notorious fact that, at that day, there were few able lawyers in
M--, to secure me an early and valuable practice. I carried with
me letters from the best men in the community I had left. But I
carried with me what was of more value than any letters, even though
they be written in gold. I carried with me methodical habits and
an energy of character which would maintain my resolution, and
bear me through, to a safe conclusion, in any plan which I should
contemplate. Industry and perseverance are the giants that cast
down forests, drain swamps, level mountains, and create empires. I
flattered myself that with these I had other and crowning qualities
of intellect and culture. Perhaps it may be admitted that I had.
But of what avail were all when coupled with the blind heart?
Enough--I must not anticipate.
Filled with the exciting fancies engendered by the affair of the
last night, I commenced my journey. The day was a fine one; the
sun cheery and bright without being oppressive; and soon, gliding
through the broad avenues, lined with noblest trees, which conducted
us from the city to the forests, we had the pleasant carol of birds,
and the lively chirp of hopping insects.
I was always a lover of the woods; green shady dells, and winding
walks amidst crowding foliage. I cared little for mere flowers. A
garden was never a desire in my mind. I could be pleased to see and
to smell, but I had no passion for its objects. But the trees--the
big, venerable oaks, like patriarchs and priests; the lofty
and swaggering pines in their green helmets, like warriors of the
feudal ages--these were forms that I could worship. I may say, I
loved trees with a real passion. Flowers, and the taste for flowers
seemed to me always petty; but my instincts led me to behold a
sneaking and most impressive grandeur, in these old lords of the
forest, that had been the first, rising from the mighty mother
to attest the wondrous strength of her resources, and the teeming
glories of her womb.
Now, however, they did not fill my soul with earnest reachings,
as had ever been the case before. They soothed me somewhat, but
the eyes of my mind were turned within. They looked only at the
prostration of that miserable heart which was torturing itself with
vague, wild doubts--guessing and conjecturing with an agonizing
pain, and without the least hope of profit. I could not drive from
my thoughts, the vexing circumstances of the last night in the
city; and, for the first day of our journey, the hours moved with
oppressive slowness. Objects which I had formerly loved to contemplate
and always found sweet and refreshing, now gave me little pleasure
and exacted little of my attention; and I reached our stopping-place
for the night with a sense of weariness and stupor which no mere
fatigue of body, I well knew, could ever have occasioned.
But this could not last. The elasticity of my nature, joined with
the absence of that one person whom I had now learned to regard as
my evil genius, soon enabled me to shake off the oppressive doubts
and sadness which fettered and enfeebled me. Once more I began to
behold the forests with all the eyes of former delight and affection,
and I was conscious, after the progress of a day or two, of periods
in which I entirely lost sight of William Edgerton and all my
suspicions in the sweet warmth of a fresh and pleasing contemplation.
Something of this--nay, perhaps, the most of it, was due to my wife
herself. There was a change in her air and manner which sensibly
affected my heart. I had treated her coldly at first, but she had
not perceived it; at least she had not suffered it to influence
her conduct; and I was equally pleased and surprised to behold in
her language, looks, and deportment, a degree of life and buoyant
animation, which reminded me of the very champagne exuberance and
spirit of her youth. Her eyes flashed with a sense of freedom. Her
voice sounded with the silvery clearness of one, who, long pent up
in the limits of a dungeon, uses the first moment of escape into
the forests to delight himself with song. She seemed to have just
thrown off a miserable burden;--and, as for any grief--any sign of
regret at leaving home and tics from which she would not willingly
part--there was not the slightest appearance of any such feeling
in her mind, look, or manner. Kindly, considerately, and sweetly,
and with a cheery smile in her eyes, and a springing vigor in the
accents of her voice, she strove to enliven the way and to expel
the gloom which she soon perceived had fastened itself upon my soul.
Her own cares, if she had any, seemed to be very slight, and were
utterly lost in mine. She spoke of our new abiding-place with a
hearty confidence; that it would be at once a home of prosperity
and peace; and, altogether convinced me for the time that the
sacrifice must be comparatively very small, which she had made on
leaving her birth-place. I very soon wondered that I should have
fancied that William Edgerton was ever more to her than the friend
of her husband.
Our journey was slow but not tedious. Had our progress been only
half so rapid, I should have been satisfied. It was love alone
that my heart wanted. I craved for nothing but the just requital
of my own passion. I had no complaint, no affliction, when I could
persuade myself that I had not thrown away my affections upon the
ungrateful and undeserving. Assured now of the love of the beloved
one, all the intense devotion of my soul was re-awakened; and the
deepest shadows of the forest, gloomy and desolate as they were,
along the waste tracts of Georgia and Alabama--in that earlier
day--enlivened by the satisfied spirit within, seemed no more than
so many places of retreat, where security and peace, combining in
behalf of Love, had given him an exclusive sovereignty.
The rude countryman encountered us, and his face beamed with
cheerfulness and good humor. The song of the black softened the toils
of labor, in the unfinished clearings; and even the wild red man,
shooting suddenly from out the sylvan covert, wore in his visage
of habitual gravity, an air of resignation which took all harshness
from his uncouth features.
Such, under the tuition of well-satisfied hearts, was our mutual
experience of the long journey which we had taken when we reached
the end of it. This we did in perfect safety. We found our friend,
Kingsley, prepared for and awaiting us. He had procured us pleasant
apartments in a neat cottage in the suburbs, where we were almost
to ourselves. Our landlady was an ancient widow, without a family.
She occupied but a single apartment in her house, and left the
use of the rest to her lodgers. This was an arrangrment with which
I was particularly gratified. Her cottage lay half way up on the
side of a hill which was crowned with thick clumps of the noblest
trees. Long, winding, narrow foot-paths, carried us picturesquely
to the summit, where we had a bird's-eye view of the town below,
the river beyond--now darting out from the woods and now hiding
securely beneath their umbrage--and fair, smooth, lawn-looking
fields, which glowed at the proper season with the myriad green and
white pinnies of corn and cotton. At the foot of the cottage lay
a delightful shrubbery, which almost covered it up from sight. It
was altogether such a retreat as a hermit would desire. It reminded
me somewhat of the lovely spot which we had left. A pleasant walk
of a mile lay between it and the town where I proposed to practice,
and this furnished a necessity for a certain degree of exercise,
which, being unavoidable, was of the most valuable kind. Altogether,
Kingsley had executed his commission with a taste and diligence
which left me nothing to complain of.
He was delighted at my coming.
"You are nearer to me now," he said; "will be nearer at least when
I get to Texas; and I do not despair to see you making tracks after
me when I go there."
"But when go you?"
"Not soon. I am in some trouble here. I am pleading and being
impleaded. You are just come in season to take up the cudgels for
me. My landrights are disputed--my titles. You will have something
of a lawsuit to begin upon at your earliest leisure."
"Indeed! but what's the business?"
He gave me a statement of his affairs, placed his papers in my hands,
and I found myself, on inspecting them, engaged in a controversy
which was likely to give me the opportunity which I desired, of
appearing soon in cases of equal intricacy and interest. Kingsley
had some ten thousand dollars in land, the greater part of which
was involved in questions of title and pre-emption, presenting some
complex features, and likely to occasion bad blood among certain
trespassers whom it became our first duty to oust if possible. I
was associated with a spirited young lawyer of the place; a youth
of great natural talent, keen, quick intellect, much readiness of
resource, yet little experienee and less reading. Like the great
mass of our western men, however, he was a man to improve. He had
no self-conceit--did not delude himself with the idea that he knew
as much as his neighhor; and, consequently, was pretty certain to
increase in wisdom with increase of years. He had few prejudices
to get over, and though he knew his strength, he also knew his
weakness. He felt the instinct of natural talent, but he did not
deceive himself on the subject of his deficient knowledge. He was
willing to learn whenever he could find a teacher. His name was
Wharton. I took to him at once. He was an ardent, manly fellow--frank
as a boy--could laugh and weep in the same hour, and yet was as
firm in his principles, as if he could neither laugh nor weep. As
an acquaintance he was an acquisition.
Kingsley was delighted to see me, though somewhat wondering that
I should give up the practice at home, where I was doing so well,
to break ground in a region where I was utterly unknown. He gave
me little trouble, however, in accounting to him for this movement.
It was not difficult to persuade him--nay, he soon persuaded
himself--that something of my present course was due to his
own counsel and suggestion. To a man, like himself, to whom mere
transition was pleasure, it needed no argument to show that my
resolve was right.
"Who the d--l," he exclaimed, "would like always to be in the same
place? Such a person is a mere cipher. We establish an intellectual
superiority when we show ourselves superior to place. A genuine
man is always a citizen of the world. It is your vegetable man that
can not go far without grumbling, finding fault with all he sees,
talking of comforts and such small matters, and longing to get
home again. Such a man puts me in mind of every member of the cow
family that I ever knew. He is never at peace with himself or
the world, but always groaning and thrusting out his horns, until
he can get back to his old range, and revel in his native marsh,
joint-grass, and cane-tops. Englishmen are very much of this breed.
They go abroad, grumble as they go, and if they can not carry their
cane-tops with them, afflict the whole world with their lamentations.
I take it for granted, Clifford, that this step to Alabama, is
simply a step toward Texas. Your next will be to New Orleans, and
then, presto, we shall see you on the Sabine."
"I hope not," said my wife. "You have got us into such comfortable
quarters here, Mr. Kingsley, that I hope you will do nothing to
tempt my husband farther. Go farther and fare worse, you know. Let
well enough alone."
"Oh. I beseech you!--two proverbs at a time will be fatal to one
or other of us. Perhaps both. But he can not fare worse by going
"He will do well enough here."
"Recover your lands, for example, as a beginning."
"Ah! now you would bribe me. That is certainly a suggestion to
make me keep my tongue, at least until the verdict is rendered.
'Till then, you know, I shall make no permanent remove myself."
"But do you mean to go before the trial?" I asked.
"Yes, for a couple of months or so. I should only get into some
squabble with my opponents by remaining here; and I may be preparing
for all of us by going in season. I will look out for a township,
Mrs. Clifford, on the edge of some beautiful prairie, and near some
beautiful river. Your husband has a passion for water prospects,
I can tell you, and would become a misanthrope without them. I
am doubtful if he will be happy, indeed, if not within telescope
distance from the sea itself. I don't think that a river will
altogether satisfy him."
"Oh yes, THIS must;" and as she spoke she pointed to the fair glassy
surface of the Alabama, as it stretched away, at intervals, in
broad glimpses before our eyes.
"Well, we shall see; but I will make my preparations, nevertheless,
precisely as if he were not likely to be content. I have formed
to myself a plan for all of you. I must make a dear little colony
of our own in Texas. We shall have a nest of the sweetest little
cottages, each with its neat little garden. In the centre we shall
have a neat little playground for our neat little children; on the
hill a neat little church; in the grove a neat little library; on
the river a neat little barge; and over this neat little empire,
you, Lady Clifford, shall be the neat little empress."
"Dear me! what a neat little establishment!"
"It shall be all that, I assure you; and it shall have other advantages.
You shall have a kingdom free from taxes and wars. There shall be
no law-givers but yourself. We shall have no elections except when
we elect our wives, and the women shall be the only voters then. We
shall have no custom houses--everything shall be free of duty;--we
shall have no banks--everything shall be free of charge;--we shall
have no parson, for shall we not be sinless?"
"But what will you do with the neat little church?"
"Oh! that we shall keep merely to remind us of what is necessary
in less fortunate communities."
"Very good; but how, if you have no parsons, will you perform the
"That shall be a natural operation of government. The voters having
given their suffrages, you shall determine and declare with whom
the majority lies, and give a certificate to that effect. The first
choice will lie with the damsel having the highest number of votes;
the second with the next; and so on to the end of the chapter; and
then elections are to take place annually among the unmarried--the
ladies being the privileged class as I said before. You will keep
a record of these events, the names of parties, and so forth; and
this record shall be proof, conclusive to conviction, against any
party falling off from his or her duties."
"Quite a system. I do not deny that our sex will have some new
privileges by this arrangement."
"Unquestionably. But you have not heard all. We shall have no
doctors, for we shall have no diseases in the beautiful world to
which I shall carry you. We shall have no lawyers, for we shall
have no wrangling."
"Indeed; but what is my husband to do then?"
"Why, he is your husband. What should he do? He takes rank from
you. You are queen, you know. He will have no need of law."
"There's reason in that; but how will you prevent wrangling where
there are men and women?"
"Oh, by giving the women their own way. The government is a
despotism--you are queen--surely you will make no further objection
to so admirable a system?"
In good-humored chat like this, in which our landlady, Mrs.
Porterfield--a lady who, though fully sixty-five years of age, was
yet of a cheery and chatty disposition--took considerable part,
our first evening passed away. Though fatigued, we sat up until a
tolerably late hour, enlivened by the frank spirit of our friend,
Kingsley, and inspired by the natural feeling of curiosity which
our change of situation inspired It was midnight before we solicited
the aid of sleep.
THE BLACK DOG ONCE MORE UPON THE SCENE.
The next day was devoted to an examination of our premises and the
neighborhood. The result of this examination was such as to render
us better satisfied with the change that we had made. We were
still young enough to be sensible to the loveliness of novelty.
Everything wore that purple light which the eye of youth confers
upon the object. And then there was repose. That harassing strife
of the "blind heart" was at rest. I had no more suspicions; and
my wife looked and spoke as if she had never had either doubts of
me, or fears of herself, within her bosom. I was happiness itself,
when, by the unreserved ease and gayety of her deportment she
persuaded me that she suffered no regrets. I little fancied how
much the change in my wife's manner had arisen from the involuntary
change which had been going on in mine. I now looked the love which
I felt; and she felt, in the improvement of my looks, the renewal
of that fond passion which I had never ceased to feel, but which
I had only too much ceased to show while suffering from the "blind
heart." She resumed her old amusements with new industry. Our
little parlor received constant accessions of new pictures. All our
leisure was employed in exploring the scenery of the neighborhood;
and not a bit of forest, or patch of hill, or streak of rivulet or
stream, to whiah the genius of art could lend loveliness, but she
picked up, in these happy rambles, and worked into fitting places
upon our cottage walls.
Our good old hostess became attached to us. She virtually surrendered
the management of the household to my wife. She was old and quite
infirm; and was frequently confined for days to her chamber; which
must have been a solitary place enough before our coming. My wife
became a companion to her in these periods of painful seclusion,
and thus provided her with a luxury which had been long denied
her. Under these circumstances we had very much our own way. The
old lady had few associates, and these were generally very worthy
people. They soon became our associates also, and under the
influence of better feelings than had governed me for a long time
past, I now found myself in a condition of comfoft, cheerfulness,
and peace, which I fancied I had forfeited for ever.
Two weeks after our arrival, Kingsley took his departure for Texas,
on a visit. He proposed to be absent two months. His object, as
he had described it before, in some pleasant exaggerations, was
to select some favorable spots for purchase, which should combine
as nearly as possible the three prime requisites of salubrity,
fertility, and beauty. His object was to speculate; "and this was
to be done," he said, "at an early hour of the day." "The Spanish
proverb," he was wont to say, "which regulates the eating of oranges,
is not a bad rule to govern a man in making his speculations.
Speculations (oranges) are gold at morning, silver at noon, and
lead at night. It is your wise man," he added, "who buys and sells
early; your merely sensible man who does so at midday; while your
dunce, waiting for an increased appetite at evening, swallows
nothing but lead."
I was in some respects a very fortunate man. If I had been a wise
one! It has been seen that I was singularly successful in business at
my first beginning in my native city. I had not been long in the
town of M--, before I began to congratulate myself on the prospect of
like fortune attending me there. The affairs of Kingsley brought me
into contact with several men of business. My letters of introduction
made me acquainted with many more; not simply of the town, but
of the neighboring country. My ardency of temper was particularly
suited to a frank, confiding people, such as are most of the
southwestern men; and one or two accidental circumstances yielded
me professional occupation long before I expected to find it. I
had occasion to appear in court at an early day, and succeeded in
making a favorable impression upon my hearers. To be a good speaker,
in the south and southwest, is to be everything. Eloquence implies
wisdom--at least all the wisdom which is supposed to be necessary
in making lawyers and law-makers--a precious small modicum of a
material by no means precious. I was supposed to have the gift of
the gab in moderate perfection, and my hearers were indulgent. My
name obtained circulation, and, in a short time, I discovered that,
in a professional as well as personal point of view, I had no reason
to regret the change of residence which I had made. Business began
to flow in upon me. Applications reached me from adjoining counties,
and though my fees, like the cases which I was employed in, were
of moderate amount, they promised to be frequent, while my clients
generally were very substantial persons.
It will not need that I should dwell farther on these topics. It
will be sufficient to show that, in worldly respects, I was as
likely to prosper in my new as in my past abode. In social respects
I had still more reason to be gratified. The days went by with me
as smoothly as with Thalaba. My wife was all that I could wish.
She was the very Julia whom I had married. Nay, she was something
more--something better. Her health improved, and with it her
spirits. She evidently had no regrets. A sigh never escaped her.
Her content and cheerfulness were wonderful. She had none of that
vague, vain yearning which the feeble feel, called "home-sickness." She
convinced me that I was her home--the only home that she desired.
It was evident that she thought less of our ancient city than I
did myself. I am sure that if either of us, at any moment, felt a
desire to look upon it again, the person was myself. I maintained
a correspondence with the place--received the newspapers, groped over
them with persevering industry--nay--missed not the advertisements,
and was disappointed and a discontent on those days when the mail
failed. My wife had no such appetite. She sometimes read the papers,
but she appeared to have no curiosity; and, with the exception of
an occasional letter which she received from her mother, she had
no intercourse whatever with her former home.
All this was calculated to satisfy me. But this was not all. If
gentleness, sweetness, cheerfulness, and a sleepless consideration
of one's wants and feelings, could convince any mortal of the love
of another--I must have been satisfied. We resumed most of the
habits which began with our marriage, but which had been so long
discontinued. We rose with the sun, and went abroad after his
example. Like him we rose to the hill-tops, and then descended into
the valleys. We grew familiar with the deepest shades of wood and
forest while the dewdrops were yet beading the bosoms of the wild
flowers; and we followed the meandering course of the Alabama,
long before the smoking steamer vexed it with her flashing paddles.
My professional toils from breakfast to dinner-time--for this
interval I studiously gave to my office, even if I had little to do
there--occasioned the only interregnum which I knew in the positive
pleasures which I enjoyed. In the afternoon our enjoyments were
renewed. Our cottage was so sweetly secluded, that we did not need
to go far in order to find the Elysian grove which we desired.
At the top of our hill we were surrounded by a natural temple of
proud pines--guarding the spot from any but that sort of devine
and religious light which streams through the painted windows of
the ancient cathedral. The gay glances of the sun came gliding
through the foliage in drops, and lay upon the grass in little pale,
fanciful gleams, most like eyes of fairies peeping upward from its
velvety tufts. Here we read together from the poets--sometimes
Julia sung, even while sketching. Not unfrequently, Mrs. Porterfield
came with us, and, at such times, our business was to detect distant
glimpses of barge, or steamboat, as they successively darted into
sight, along such of the glittering patches of the Alabama as were
revealed to us in its downward progress through the woods.
Our evenings were such as hallow and make the luxury of cottage
life--evenings yielded up to cheerfulness, to content and harmony.
Between music, and poetry, and painting, my heart was subdued to
the sweetest refinements of love. Without the immorality, we had
the very atmosphere of a Sybarite indulgence. I was enfeebled by the
excess of sweets; and the happiness which I felt expressed itself
in signs. These denoted my presentiments. My apprehensions were
my sole cause of doubt and sorrow. How could such enjoyments last?
Was it possible, with any, that they should last? Was it possible
that they should last with me? I should have been mad to think it.
But, in the sweet delirium which their possession inspired, I
almost forgot the past. The soul of man is the most elastic thing
in nature. Those harassing tortures of the heart which I had been
suffering for months--those weary days of exhausting doubt--those
long nights of torturing suspicion--the shame and the fear, the
sting of jealousy, and the suffering--I had almost forgotten in the
absorbing pleasures of my new existence. If I remembered them it
was only to smile; if I thought of William Edgerton it was only
to pity;--and, as for Julia, deep was the crimson shadow upon my
cheek, whenever the reproachful memory reminded me of the tortures
which I had inflicted upon her gentle heart while laboring under
the tortures of my own--when I thought of the unmanly espionage which
I had maintained over conduct which I now felt to be irreproachable.
But, just at the moment when I thus thought and felt--when I
no longer suffered and no longer inflicted pain--when my wife was
not only virtue in my sight, but love, and beauty, and grace, and
meekness--all that was good and all that was dear besides;--when
my sky was without a cloud, and the evening star shone through the
blue sky upon the green tops of our cottage trees, with the serene
lustre of a May-divinity--just then a thunderbolt fell upon my
dwelling, and blackened the scene for ever.
I had now been three months a resident in M----, and never
had I been more happy--never less apprehensive on the score of my
happiness--when I received a letter from my venerable friend and
patron, the father of William Edgerton.
"My son," he wrote, "is no better than when you left us. We have
every reason to believe him worse. He has a cough, he is very thin,
and there is a flushed spot upon his cheek which seems to his mother
and myself the indubitable sign of vital decay. His frame is very
feeble, and our physician advises travel. Under this counsel he
set off with a favorite servant on Wednesday of last week. He will
make easy stages through Tennessee to the Ohio, will descend into
Mississippi, and return home by way of Alabama. He contemplates
paying you a brief visit. I need not say, dear Clifford, how grateful
I shall be for any kindness which you can show to my poor boy. His
mother particularly invokes it. I should not have deemed it necessary
to say so much, but would have preferred leaving it to William to
make his own communication, were it not that she so particularly
desires it. It may be well to add, that on one subject we are
both very much relieved. We now have reason to believe that our
apprehensions on the score of his morals were without foundation.
It is our present belief that he neither gamed nor drank. This is
a consolation, dear Clifford, though it brings us no nigher to our
wish. It is something to believe that the object of our love is
not worthless; though it adds to the pang that we should feel in
the event of losing him. Our parting would be less easy. For my own
part, I have little hope that his journey will do him any material
benefit. It may prolong his days, but can not, I fear, have any more
decided influence upon his disease. His mother, however, is more
sanguine, and it is perhaps well that she should be so. I know
that when William reaches your neighborhood, you will make it as
cheerful and pleasant to him as possible. The talent of your young
and sweet wife--her endowments in painting and music--have always
been a great solace to him. His tastes you know are very much like
hers. I trust she will exercise them, and be happy in ministering
to the comfort of one, who will not, I fear, trespass very long
upon any earthly ministry. My dear Clifford, I know that you will
do your utmost in behalf of your earliest friend, and I will waste
no more words in unnecessary solicitation."
Such was the important portion of the letter. In an instant, as
I read it, I saw, with the instinct of jealousy, the annihilation
of all my hopes of happiness. All my dreams were in the dust--all
my fancies scattered--my schemes and temples overthrown. Bitter
was the pang I felt on reading this letter. It said more--much
more--in the very language of solicitation which the good old father
professed to believe unnecessary. He poured forth the language of
a father's grief and entreaty. I felt for the venerable man--the
true friend--in spite of my own miserable apprehensions. I felt
for him, but what could I do? What would he have me do? I had no
house in which to receive his son. He would lodge, perhaps, for a
time, in the community. It could not be supposed that he would remain
long. The letter of the father spoke only of a brief visit. Our
neighborhood had no repute, as a place of resort, for consumptive
patients. I consoled myself with the reflection that William Edgerton
could, on no pretence, linger more than a week or two among us. I
will treat him kindly--give him the freedom of the house while he
remains. A dying man, if so he be, must have reached a due sense of
his situation, and will not be likely to trespass upon the rights
of another. His passions must be subdued by this time. Ah! but will
not his condition be more likely to inspire sympathy?
The fiend of the blind heart prompted that last suggestion. It
was the only one that I remembered. When I returned home that day
to dinner, I mentioned, as if casually, the letter I had received,
and the contents. My eye narrowly watched that of my wife while
I spoke. Hers sunk beneath my glance Her cheeks were suddenly
flushed--then, as suddenly, grew pale, and I observed, that, though
she appeared to eat, but few morsels of food were carried into her
mouth that day. She soon left the table, and, pleading headache
declined joining me in our usual evening rambles.
TRIAL--THE WOMAN GROWS STRONG.
Thus, then, I was once more at sea, rudderless--not yet
companionless--perhaps, soon to be so. My relapse was as sudden as
my thought. It seemed as if every past misery of doubt and suspicion
were at once revived within me. All my day-dreams vanished in an
instant. William Edgerton would again behold--would again seek--my
wife. They must meet; I owed that to the father; and, whatever the
condition of the son might be, it was evident that his feelings
toward her must be the same as ever; else, why should he seek her
out?--why pursue our footsteps and haunt my peace? I must receive
him and treat him kindly for the father's sake; but that one bitter
thought, that he was pursuing us, the deadly enemy to my peace--and
now, evidently, a wilful one--gave venom to the bitter feeling with
which I had so long regarded his attentions.
It was evident, too, whatever may have been its occasion, that the
knowledge of his coming awakened strange emotions in the bosom of
my wife. That blush--that sudden paleness of the cheek--what was
their language? I fain would have struggled against the conviction,
that it denoted a guilty consciousness of the past--a guilty
feeling of the future. But the mocking demon of the blind heart
forced the assurance upon me. What was to be done? Ah! what? This
was the question, and there was no variation in the reply which
my jealous spirit made. There was but one refuge. I must pursue
the same insidious policy as before. I must resort to the same
subterfuge, meet them with the same smiles, disguise once more the
true features of my soul; seem to shut my eyes, and afford them the
same opportunities as before, in the torturing hope (fear?) that
I should finally detect them in some guilty folly which would be
sufficient to justify the final punishment. I must put on the aspect
of indifference, the better to pursue the vocation of the spy.
Base necessity, but still, as I then fancied, a necessity not the
less. Ah I was I not a thing to be pitied? Was ever any case more
pitiable than mine? I ask not this question with any hope that
an answer may be found to justify my conduct. It is not the less
pitiable--nay, it is more--that no such answer can be found. My
folly is not the less a thing of pity, because it is also a thing
of scorn. That was the pity--and yet, I was most severely tried.
Deep were my sufferings! Strong was that demon within me--I care
not how engendered, whether by the fault and folly of others, or
by my own--still it was strong. If I was guilty--base, blind--was
I not also suffering? Never did I inflict on the bosom of Julia
Clifford, so deep a pang as I daily--nay, hourly, inflicted upon
my own. She was a victim, true--but was I less so! But she was
innocently a victim, therefore, less a sufferer, whatever her
sufferings, than me! Let none condemn or curse me, till they have
asked what curse I have already undergone. I live!--they will say.
Ah! me! They must ask what is the value of life, not to themselves,
but to a crushed, a blasted heart, like mine! But I hurry forward
with my pangs rather than my story.
Instantly, a barrier seemed to rise up between Julia Clifford ind
myself. She had her consciousness, evidently, no less than I. What
was THAT consciousness? Ah! could I have guessed THAT, there would
have been no barrier--all might have been peace again. But a destiny
was at work which forbade it all; and we strove ignorantly with
one another and against ourselves. There was a barrier between
us, which our mutual blindness of heart made daily thicker, and
higher, and less liable to overthrow. A coldness overspread my
manner. I made it a sort of shelter. The guise of indifference is
one of the most convenient for hiding other and darker feelings.
Already we ceased to ramble by river and through wood. Already the
pencil was discarded. We could no longer enjoy the things which
so lately made us happy, because we no longer entertained the same
confidence in one another. Without this confidence there is no
communion sweet. And all this had been the work of that letter. The
name of William Edgarton had done it all--his name and threatened
But--and I read, the letter again and again--it would be some
time before he might be expected. The route, as laid down for him
by his father, was a protracted one. "Through Georgia, Tennessee,
Mississippi, then homeward, by way of Alabama." "He can not be
here in less than six weeks. He must travel slowly. He must make
And there was a further thought--a hope--which, though it filled
my mind, I did not venture to express in words. "He may perish on
his route: if he be so feeble, it is by no means improbable!"
At all events, I had six weeks' respite--perhaps more. Such was
my small consolation then. But even this was false. In less than
a week from that time, William Edgerton stood at the door of our
Instead of going into Tennessee, he had shot straight forward,
through Georgia, into Alabama.
Though surprised, I was not confounded by his presence. Under the
policy which I had resolved upon, I received him with the usual
professions of kindness, and a manner as nearly warm and natural
as the exercise of habitual art could make it. He certainly did
look very miserable. His features wore an expression of uniform
despair. They brightened up, when he beheld my wife, as the cloud
brightens suddenly beneath the moonlight. His eyes were riveted
upon her. He was almost speechless, but he advanced and took her
hand, which I observed was scarcely extended to him. He sat the
evening with us, and a chilly, dull evening it was. He himself
spoke little--my wife less; and the conversation, such as it was,
was carried on chiefly between old Mrs. Porterfield and myself.
But I could see that Edgerton employed his eyes in a manner which
fully compensated for the silence of his tongue. They were seldom
withdrawn from the quarter of the apartment in which my wife sat.
When withdrawn, it was but for an instant, and they soon again
reverted to the spot. He had certainly acquired a degree of
boldness, which, in this respect, he had not before possessed. I
keenly analyzed his looks without provoking his attention. It was
not possible for me to mistake the unreserved admiration that his
glance expressed. There was a strange spiritual expression in his
eyes, which was painful to the spectator. It was that fearful
sign which the soul invariably makes when it begins to exert itself
at the expense of the shell which contains it. It was the sign of
death already written. But he might linger for months. His cough
did not seem to me oppressive. The flush was not so obvious upon
his cheek. Perhaps, looking through the medium of my peculiar
feelings, his condition was not half so apparent as his designs.
At least, I felt my sympathies in his behalf--small as they were
before--become feebler with every moment of his stay that night.
"Edgerton does not appear to me to look so badly," I said to Julia,
after his departure for the evening.
"I don't know," she answered; "he looks very pale and miserable."
"Quite interesting!" I added, with a smile which might have been
"Painfully so. He can not last very long--his cough is very
"Indeed! I scarcely heard it. He is certainly a very fine-looking
fellow still, consumption or no consumption."
She was silent.
"A very graceful fellow: very generous and with accomplishments
such as are possessed by few. I have often envied him his person
"You!" she exclaimed, with something like an expression of incredulity.
"Yes!--that is to say, when I was a youth, and when I thought more
of commending myself to your eyes, than of anything besides."
"Ah!" she replied with an assuring smile, "you never needed qualities
other than your own to commend yourself to me."
"Pleasant hypocrite! And yet, Julia, would you not be better pleased
if I could draw and color, and talk landscape with you by the hour?"
"No! I have never thought of your doing anything of the kind."
"Like begets liking."
"It may be, but I do not think so. I do not think we love people
so much for what they can do, as for what they are."
"Ah, Julia, that is a great mistake. It is a law in morals, that
the qualities of men should depend upon their performances. What
a man is, results from what he does, and so we judge of persons.
Edgerton is a noble fellow; his tastes are very fine. I suspect he
can form as correct an opinion of a fine picture as any one--perhaps,
paint it as finely."
She was silent.
"Do you not think so, Julia?"
"I think he paints very well for an amateur."
"He is certainly a man of exquisite taste in most matters of taste
and elegance. I have always thought his manners particularly easy
and dignified. His carriage is at once manly and graceful; and his
dancing--do you not think he dances with admirable flexibility?"
"Really, Edward, I can scarcely regard dancing as a manly
accomplishment. It is necessary that a gentleman should dance,
perhaps, but it appears to me that he should do so simply because
it is necessary; and to pass through the measure without ostentation
or offence should be his simple object."
"These are not usually the opinions of ladies, Julia."
"They are mine, however."
"You are not sure. You will think otherwise to-morrow. At all
events, I think there can be little doubt that Edgerton is one of
the best dancers in the circle we have left; he has the happiest
taste in painting and poetry; and a more noble gentleman and true
friend does not exist anywhere. I know not to whom I could more
freely confide life, wealth, and honor, than to him."
She was silent. I fancied there was something like distress apparent
in her countenance. I continued:--
"There is one thing, Julia, about which I am not altogether
"Ah!" with much anxiety; "what is that?"
"I owe so much to his father, that, in his present condition, I
fancy we ought to receive him in our house. We should not let him
go among strangers, exposed to the noise and neglect of a hotel."
There was some abruptness in her answer:--
"I do not see how you can bring him here. You forget that we are mere
lodgers ourselves; indebted for our accommodation to the kindness
of a lady upon whom we should have no right to press other lodgers.
Such an arrangement would crowd the house, and make all parties
uncomfortable. Besides, I suppose Mr. Edgerton will scarcely
remain long enough in M---to make it of much importance where he
lodges, and when he finds the tavern uncomfortable he will take
"But should he get sick at the tavern?"
"Such a chance would follow him wherever he went. That is the risk
which every man incurs when he goes abroad. He has a servant with
him--no doubt a favorite servant."
"Should he get sick, Julia, even a favorite servant will not be
enough. It will be our duty to make other provision for him. I owe
his father much; the old man evidently expects much from me by his