Part 4 out of 7
Up to this time, nothing had disturbed the peaceful monotony of their
new home, but, all day as Alphonse de Maistre prematurely aged and gray,
sat nursing the grief that had lately visited him in the death of his
wife, this girl, for whom he had sacrificed all, grumbled and sighed for
the dangers, from which, it had cost him so much to rescue her.
To add to the heavy burden of sorrow that afflicted him, Alphonse de
Maistre had to sacrifice, that which contributed most towards making his
present home endurable, his eye-sight. It had been failing rapidly for
years, and finally became totally extinguished after the death of his
faithful, broken-hearted wife.
Even this appealing condition of his, failed to reconcile the wayward
girl, to the life he had chosen her to lead; the great pity was, that
proper care had not been taken to screen those pleasures altogether from
the eyes that had been forbidden to feast upon them. Through volumes of
romances, and love-songs, Fifine had gathered a knowledge of what it is
to live unfettered, in that world of privileges which she could see only
through iron bars. Her governess too, had abused the confidence placed
in her by the parents of the girl, and had sung the praises of that
world outside, until Fifine yearned to cast aside her fetters, and mix
in with the lively throng. She had all the qualities of a worldly girl
latent within her and a strong feeling of vanity about her personal
attractions, and though she resigned herself to never being able to be
seen by any one, she was just as fastidious about the fit of a costume
she would wear as any Parisian lady of _haut ton_.
It always irritated Josephine de Maistre, to hear her father allude to
the unfortunate cloud that darkened her young life, she always raged and
cried and said it was "_betises_" and on this occasion she listened no
more patiently than on any other; she sprung nervously from the chair,
and clasping her hands behind her back, raised her shapely head to
address a large green parrot, that was whistling in his great iron cage,
on the verandah beside her,--"Poor Poll, Pretty Poll"--came from the
thin, pretty coral lips. Poll, thrust his head on one side, and looked
almost calculatingly upon the _svelte_ figure of his mistress, and said
in a meaning croak, "come to dinner--the guest is hungry."
"Greedy Poll," said Fifine, stepping in through the open French window,
into the dining-room; she emerged a second later, holding a tempting
cracker, between her dainty fingers, she opened the cage door and then
lay back again in her cosy chair, having placed the cracker between her
own lips. Poll, was quite used to being thus trusted, and stepping
majestically out, he perched himself on the shapely shoulder of the
young girl, and picked the cracker from its dainty resting place.
A few quiet moments ensued, disturbed only by the crunching noise of
Poll's beak in the much relished biscuit, when suddenly Fifine gave a
great exclamation of surprise, and darted off her seat. Poll, had abused
the trust he had so long respected, and had flown off to quite a little
distance from the house.
"What is the matter?" the old man asked, leaning forward anxiously in
"The naughty Poll has flown away," Fifine answered, "but he cannot go
far, Preston clipped his lordship's wings a very short time ago--I will
get my hat and follow him."
In another instant, Josephine, in the daintiest of garden-hats tied
under her pretty chin, was chasing her truant bird through the wood. She
had soon reached the limit of the house-grounds, for, though Poll was
unable to fly far at the time, he skipped ahead most provokingly, just
as Fifine neared him, and called out in his lustiest croaks, "poor Poll,
poor Fifine, Poll wants a cracker, Fifine wants a beau--beau, oh dear,
ha, ha, ha." The color had risen to the brunettes pretty cheeks, and her
eyes had grown a little wild-looking, from the chase, her hat had fallen
back on her shoulders, and the breeze played teazingly with the dark
waves of her hair that bordered her perfect brow, she was looking up at
a twig above her head, whereon was perched the provoking bird, and as
she ran heedlessly towards it, her foot became entangled in a net-work
of withered branches that lay in the long grass, and with a cry of pain
she fell foremost, on the ragged edge of an old tree stump that stood
between her and the soft harmless ground.
Had it been the most imaginative chapter of a dime novel, things could
not have happened more opportunely than they did. Just as the echo of
the girls cry of distress died in the distance, there was a crackling
noise of the branches near by, and a man, young and handsome, with
sporting tackle wound around him, stood beside the prostrate form of
Fifine de Maistre.
"The d--l? this is a surprise," said the handsome stranger kneeling down
on one knee, and untying the ribbons of the large-leafed hat, from the
throat of the girl. She was turned from him, but he could see a tiny
stream of crimson blood oozing from beneath the hidden face, and
slinging aside his sporting regalia he raised the unconscious form in
his arms, and looked enquiringly on the still features.
We can forgive the wasted moments of speechless admiration that
followed, before he tried to restore consciousness to the inanimate
girl, for her beauty had struck him into silent wonder, and being a man,
what could he do but stare and admire. There is no appeal so eloquent to
the heart of a man as that of a female face of perfect beauty, and when
that face is clouded by pain or sorrow, or distress of any kind, a man
can no longer control himself.
In this instance our hero had hit upon a nest of temptations--first, he
moistened the corner of his silk handkerchief from a flask of water he
carried with him, to bathe the throbbing temples, and to wipe away the
blood that had disfigured the pretty face. The wound was fortunately a
very slight one, and a little treatment sufficed. Having done this, he
hesitated a moment and gazed lovingly on the still, motionless features
and form of the strange girl, and then, weak, susceptible, unworthy
mortal that he was, he bowed his handsome face over her, until two pairs
of handsome, well curved lips had met in a--stolen kiss.
After this, he balanced a flask of brandy tenderly and carefully over
the pale, set mouth, the even features puckered into an ugly grimace as
the spirits moistened the tongue, then her bosom heaved with a great
fretful sigh, and she raised the closed lids, slowly and tremblingly
displaying to the expectant gaze of her attendant the loveliest pair of
dark eyes he had ever seen.
There was a great, vacant stare of stupid wonder for the first instant
of returning consciousness, then Fifine, starting up as if from a
nightmare, looked bewilderingly around her in a puzzled, dazed sort of
"Are you better?" asked the deep, musical voice of the stranger so
eagerly that Fifine realized at once that something must have gone
wrong. She raised herself up with a great effort, and looked around in
It is not hard to understand how she felt, she, who had never in all her
life known what it is to receive the simplest act of courtesy from
anyone, now opening her eyes in a lonely wood to find the strong arms of
a handsome man supporting her carefully, and holding her head tenderly
against his breast for repose. Unschooled though she was in the general
items of conventionality, she yet had enough womanly instinct in her to
form a perfectly correct calculation of her own, on the strange things
that had just transpired.
She felt, while she viewed her handsome hero with that first enquiring
glance, that already they were something more than mere strangers to one
another. What is there in a little stolen kiss to work such a wonderful
change in one? How is it that, though perhaps unable to define
everything clearly, a woman can always feel, always know when a man has
tried his influence over her thus far?--for influence it certainly is,
when a woman has given to the man she is capable of loving, permission
to touch his lips to hers, she has at the same time bowed in voluntary
slavery under his yoke forever. It is an experience that is never a
past, and yet all that has happened before it becomes a blank in the
heart, life dates anew from this circumstance, and "is never the same
again." This was the nature of the sudden change that had come over our
little heroine--the strange romanticism and novelty of the whole scene
impressed her visibly.
"Better?" she queried, "Oh, yes. Polly!" and she looked up towards the
fated tree that had caused her fall, then realizing her position, she
turned to her deliverer, and in a slightly embarrassed tone, said, "I
suppose I owe my thanks to Monsieur for aiding me to recover. I was
hunting my parrot who escaped from his cage, and met this misfortune
while chasing him through this untidy wood."
As she spoke, she raised her tiny, jewelled hand to her face,
complaining of a pain in the vicinity of the wound that had been so
lovingly dressed, and in trying to advance towards her hat, that hung on
the projecting twig of a tree a faint little cry of suffering escaped
her. She had injured her ankle too, and was unable to stand on one foot
During all this time our young hero was being consumed by admiration for
the lovely young girl. Such eyes! Such a whole face! Such a figure! She
was fit to clasp in his strong arms and be borne home in a few strides--
such a precious little burden she looked. But this he scarcely dared to
do just now. Fifine realized her situation as quickly as if she had
planned it all beforehand. In spite of the pain and injuries received,
she could not help feeling intensely gratified at the romantic turn
things had taken. What was the dearest parrot on earth beside a real
live young man, handsome and _chic_, and with eyes and bearing just like
the heroes in her French novels? Whatever way she might have reached
home under ordinary circumstances, these were too promising to have her
rely on her own capacity, and to make this understood, she made another
attempt to walk, but apparently with less success than at first. Her
silent admirer drew a step nearer, and held his arm towards her.
"Do let me assist you," he pleaded, "those little feet were never
intended for the branches and boughs of a rough wood like this."
Fifine had never learned how to judge a man by his smallest words and
lightest actions. She knew nothing of the thousand little deeds that are
done by the counterfeit gentleman, which the real one would spurn with
contempt, hence it did not seem at all like taking an advantage of her
to hear this one address her with such an open compliment.
The effect was to his benefit. He saw immediately that this was a young
girl, hopelessly unschooled in the rules I and regulations of the modern
art of coquetry, and so his smile, half hidden, looked as though he
meant to repay himself for this amusing trouble.
"Do you live far from here?" was his next question to Fifine who had
become quite resigned to her happy misfortune by now.
"Not far, if I was alone and well, but," she added almost coquettishly,
"having to trouble you to escort me will make the distance seem twice as
Her companion looked amused, he tucked her arm still more firmly within
his, and drew her quite close to him. She had put on her hat again and
looked sweeter than ever as they began the return home. He took up the
conversation at her last words and said in a sorry tone.
"It is a pity we show so soon that our tastes are so entirely different.
However, you will excuse me if I say it is your fault. Now, I prize this
walk back just for the reason you assign for disliking it. You find it
long because I am with you, and I will find it short just because you
are with me."
Such words as these went straight to Fifine's susceptible heart; her
most exaggerated dreams had never led her this far. She looked at him
doubtfully, but it was no dream, she was actually leaning on the strong
arm of a live man, listening to words, such as the most devoted Romeo
might address to his idolized Juliet.
"But if I must agree with you," she said, "I must still disagree with
myself, remembering that while I may never see you again, I must live
all my life with myself. Besides I wonder if I could enjoy anything;
that word was surely not made for me, I have never known it yet."
She was skilled as any adventuress in the art of captivating. If
confidence and a recital of petty woes, from the tempting lips of a
fatally beautiful girl, do not appeal most strongly to a man's heart,
nothing will. Besides, consider the influence of circumstances. When
that pretty girl and you are wholly isolated from every other man and
pretty girl in creation, and she is making you realize by her dependence
on you, how easily wrongs are righted, and how much strength there is in
that strong arm of yours, who is to answer for the consequences? Men are
such one sided creatures, they either lean all over on the heart side or
altogether on the other. If their extravagance is the former, you can do
anything you like with them, if you only go the right way about it,
whilst if the other prevail, it is a hopeless case of barrenness against
all your best endeavors. Fortunately most young men of our day lose
balance on the _left_ side and give all up to their intense emotions.
They have never learned the A B C of self-denial, and they make an act
of resignation first and then plunge into trouble.
Fifine's enthusiastic admirer felt at this moment like opening his
heart, and closing her up in its safe fetters forevermore, and I fancy
Fifine would as soon have had it as any other nook at the present
moment, but neither spoke of it. They were making slow progress along
their homeward path, and the suggestive surroundings and interesting
circumstances were too much for the unsuspecting girl. She burst into a
lively strain of confidence extracted by the answer her companion made
to her last despairing remark about enjoying herself.
"My dear young lady, what has Fortune, so very partial to you in all
things, left undone in your enviable life?"
There was so much of seeming pathos in his voice that Fifine could not
doubt the implied sincerity of his tone, so she unsealed the secrets of
her life, telling him all, except the unhappy cause which forced her
father to bring her into such entire seclusion.
Many of my readers must have guessed, by now, that he whom the students
at the Travellers' Inn called "Bijou," and he who is now making
desperate love to Fifine de Maistre, are identical.
Just as the "boys" had said, "the Prince" was sure to break the spell,
that fettered the life of the beautiful recluse. He had been on his way
to her father, to seek his permission for himself and his fellow
students to pass through his grounds, when all at once a new experience
presented itself and he found himself talking all sorts of nice
nonsense, to a "deuced pretty girl."
It is needless to dwell on the details of the first meeting between
those two. Fifine had thought it wiser to leave her charming escort at
the rustic gate, insinuating that he might come at any other time to
visit her father, and that there was no necessity to speak of what had
transpired in the wood.
"But, Mademoiselle," said "Bijou" as he leaned languidly over the gate
that stood between them, "are you going to dismiss me like this, as soon
as I have discovered the charm of your presence? If your father objects
why could you not visit this spot unknown to him; I must see you again,
at any cost."
He grasped the tiny, white hand that drooped over the gate, and looked
her pleadingly in the eyes.
Fifine was dreaming. All the wild fanciful illusions with which she had
brightened the dark days of her young life, seemed to be realizing
themselves in a bright procession before her eyes. Here was that ideal
lover with whom she had so often rambled through those solitary grounds
in fancy--here he was in reality telling his tale of love into her ready
ear. Here was the voice she had heard in her dreams, and there were the
deep dark eyes that had haunted her out of the page of Eugene Sue's
novel, through the long, long days of her loneliness. Compensation
seemed within easy grasp. She looked up, into the face of the man before
her, and the die was cast. She recognized there a power from which she
could never fly. She shivered slightly as she realised that he was
master of her will, in spite of herself almost. He saw his advantage, he
knew before this how such an ascendancy profits the owner, and his eyes
sparkled anew with a light which to other eyes than Fifine's would not
have been wholly attractive.
The world is full of such people and their victims. We look upon a face
under whose steady gaze we stagger; there are eyes we cannot encounter
in a full unflinching look; there are hands whose touch thrills and
weakens us, there are voices which sink into our souls, and mesmerize us
at their will. Let the circumstances be what they may, we cannot forget
the influence that thus haunts our lives.
Poor Fifine had not learned life's lesson wisely. She thought that after
the first love came the "wedding ring," and then days, and weeks, and
years of highest joy. What did this unsophisticated child know of clubs
and bar-rooms and gambling houses, of city lamp-posts, and midnight
serenades. What business has any woman knowing it for that matter? so
long as she can render an account of every dollar and hour she spends in
the day, what is it to her whether her "lawful wedded husband" chooses
to watch the stars all night or not. But after all it is time woman
learned better sense, it is her privilege to accept or reject this life
of uncertainty, and yet, like Fifine, she looks lovingly, admiringly on
the pictures bright side only, and fancies "Life's enchanted cup
sparkling" all the way down.
The words of consent had passed the threshold of Josephine de Maistre's
lips. She felt her hands pressed warmly as she uttered them, and the
next instant she was limping alone up the garden walk, her sweet face
beaming with unsuppressed smiles, and her hat hanging carelessly over
her shapely shoulders.
There was no one in view when she reached the house, but perched on the
little iron swing in his pretty cage was Poll, swaying himself
complacently to and fro, and looking at his mistress first with one eye
and then the other. Fifine spoke not a word, but gathering all the
dainties out of the well-supplied cage, passed into the house, leaving
the famished bird without a morsel wherewith to gratify himself.
"Oh what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive."
Are you feeling well enough to entertain the old man to-night?" said the
plaintive voice of Alphonse de Maistre, as father and daughter resumed
their seats on the verandah, after the simple evening meal was over.
"Oh yes," Fifine answered quickly, "my foot scarcely pains at all now,
it will be nothing serious, I think, after all." Then in her sweet low
voice she commenced to read to her blind old parent who sat in a
listening attitude with his hands folded in his lap.
Suddenly the firm voice of the young girl wavered, she stammered and
grew distracted. There were footsteps in the distance that made her
heart beat violently. It was three days since her accident in the wood,
and she was anxiously looking forward to a second interview with her
lover. A moment after, her face was suffused with blushes as she found
herself confronted by the handsome stranger.
"Pardon, Monsieur," he said addressing the old man, "I have taken the
liberty to call on you, to solicit permission for myself and some
friends to pass through your grounds on our way to the upper woods."
The voice startled the old man. The words were few and to the point; the
speaker had evidently not sought a pretext for familiar intercourse, but
his voice had too much of the city cultivation about it to please him
entirely. His first thought was of Fifine.
"Are you there, daughter?" he asked stretching forth his hand, to make
assurance doubly sure.
Fifine caught it in her gentle grasp and drew nearer to him.
"Tell this stranger in his native tongue," he said slowly, "that your
father is blind and cannot see him, but that he will trust him and grant
the permission he asks, if he will leave immediately, Preston can show
them the road."
"I will spare mademoiselle the painful recital," interrupted the young
man, now speaking in French, "for I have understood Monsieur her
"Who is this man, Fifine?" De Maistre asked nervously. "Is he from the
"I know not, _mon pere_," she answered, trying to be calm, and then to
the surprise of all, a loud laugh echoed in the evening air, and the
voice of the truant parrot called out from the cage above their heads.
"Ha, ha, ha! he kissed her in the wood, Fifine, give Poll his cracker,
polly wants a cracker." The girl's face was dyed with scarlet--and the
young man's eyes looked daggers at the mischievous bird. There was an
awkward silence for a moment and then "Bijou" with characteristic
"What an amusing bird, he speaks uncommonly well, though his words are
not very appropriate, certainly."
A shadow passed over the face of the blind listener, a momentary pang
shot through his breast, he clasped his hands convulsively, then turning
to the stranger he said in a steady voice:
"Never mind the bird, he says queer things at times. Sir, I grant you
the permission you come to seek, my gardener, Preston, will await you at
whatever time you appoint, and conduct you through. Good-evening, Sir."
Taking this for dismissal, "Bijou" raised his hat, slightly pressed the
hand of the beautiful Fifine, and the next moment he was gone.
A strange and awkward silence followed his departure. Much might have
been said on such an unusual occurrence as this, yet neither chose to
At last the evening sun as though weary of the quiet scene, gathered all
his truant rays out of the tree tops and from the purple mountain
summit, and sunk to rest behind the sombre clouds that twilight spread
across the sky. Then Fifine who longed to be alone, kissed her father
good-night and retired to her own little room, after telling the servant
to light a lamp and take her father to his chamber.
The story of Fifine de Maistre's life, from the time of her adventure in
the wood, until six months after, would be to the unsympathetic, the
most monotonous series of details imaginable. There is no bore like a
man or woman who is in love, to those whose precious privilege it never
can be, to be guilty of such a natural offence. A man never tires of any
one so quickly as he does of some fellow who is "mashed," and girls who
are not engaged never count her who is, as strictly one of themselves.
This therefore may be constituted as a plea for refraining to dwell upon
the time so laden with exquisite joy to Josephine de Maistre, the time
that made up the days and nights of this period of her life at Sleepy
Cottage. She had worked out such fallacious reasonings as justified her
in the end, in holding clandestine meetings with her romantic lover, and
so, each night when she had finished reading to her father, she stole
quietly away to the rustic gate, at the end of the shrubbery, there to
lend a willing ear to protestations of love and devotion, from the lips
upon whose threshhold she knew, hung the words of her future destiny.
Things had gone thus far, when one night, Fifine in her old humor, was
grumbling against the loneliness of her existence, and giving expression
to her discontent in most touching terms. Her chivalrous adorer looked
the picture of intense sympathy, as he lay stretched in the long grass
at her feet.
"Fifine," said he, and something in his voice and eyes thrilled her to
the very heart, "my darling, your words are loaded with pain for me; why
do you grumble who should be happy amidst these surroundings. If your
life were as blank and prospectless as mine, you might have good reason
indeed to sigh and complain. You see, a man has to rough it with body
and soul. It's not so hard to keep our bodies up, but the task is for
the heart. Men should have no hearts, or else some one to love them
always and well. I could gather so much courage in a worthy love."
The girl, poor simple child, was touched. She drew nearer to Bijou whose
handsome head lay nestling against the rustic bench where she was
sitting. He was watching the quick, nervous heaving of her breast, and
he could see a slight tremor in the well-curved lip. She fell upon her
knees before him, and as she spoke, two large round tears flowed over
her pretty checks.
"But Bijou, do you not know that I love you as worthily as I know how,
that life with you is all the world to me, and without you it is a
Then she laid her bowed head on his shoulder, and sobbed convulsively.
There was a curious expression in the man's face, as he raised the girl
and made her sit beside him. Then taking both her hands in his, he said,
in a low tone--
"Fifine, I was only waiting those words from your lips. They fill my
vacant life with sweet and pleasant dreams, but in our case, as in all
others, 'the course of love can not run smoothly.' You see I gave up my
college course after I had met you, and since that time I have been
thrown on the world's mercy, almost a penniless waif. I have no wealth
to offer you, no luxury of any kind, no abundance, but love and
devotion, and that cannot satisfy you."
"O Bijou!" the girl cried out in a passionate tone, "you wrong me, you
do indeed. Give me your full heart and your empty hands. I am rich in
the world's wealth, let me share it with you; give me that abundance of
love you speak of, and I will be--Oh! so satisfied!"
A sinister smile passed over the averted face of the stranger, but the
next moment, his arm stole around the slender waist, and raising the
tear-stained face to his own, he pressed a long lingering kiss on the
"If you will have it so," he said, "my love makes me selfish enough to
comply, we can make each other happy by following such a course, is that
not enough? If I had sufficient means at my disposal, I could complete
all arrangements immediately, and there would be no further suspense for
either of us."
"But, Bijou, see how fortune has favored us. Last Tuesday was my
birthday, and papa, to reconcile me to my fate, gave me a cheque for my
whole dowry, which I was not to have had for two years more. You can see
how circumstances favor our attachment."
"It looks like it darling; I hope we are doing the right thing," and his
voice implied a painful sense of conscientiousness.
Before parting they agreed to meet once more. Fifine persisted in
offering her wealth, and Bijou did not decline. She might bring him the
cheque at their next meeting and trust to his fond affection for the
rest. He then bade her a tender farewell, and as she watched his
departing footsteps, she was delighted when he turned a last time,
sajing gayly, "_Au revoir, ma petite, a demain._" Then he disappeared in
a bend of the road, and she walked slowly back to the house, lost in the
delicious labyrinths of loves young dream.
"Oh, Love' before thy glowing shrine
My early vows were paid--
My hopes, my dreams, my heart was thine
But these are now decayed."
It was a dark, heavy evening in midsummer. Great volumes of leaden gray
clouds were piling one over the other in the sulky sky, the air was
laden with an unshed moisture, and a threatening breeze rustled through
the dry, dusty leaves of the crowded elms. There was an unnatural
stillness in Nature--everything looked drowsy and tired, the boughs
swayed and nodded, and the flowers hung their sleepy heads like worn-out
Fifine had hoped madly for the storm to keep off, and now as her fleet
steps brought her nearer the rendezvous at the end of the avenue, her
heart misgave her, and an indescribable feeling of awe, that had
something of a dread presentiment in it, filled her very soul. She
pressed the cherished gift for her lover close against her heaving
breast, and when she reached the shady nook where they were accustomed
to meet, her breath was coming in wild gasps, and her eyes were dilated
far beyond their natural size. She was a little too soon, but in her
anxiety, watchmg the clouds, the moments sped quickly by, until the
arrival of the man she so madly adored.
He could not restrain a look of admiration as his eyes rested on her
dark beauty. She had put on her daintiest bonnet, with cardinal ribbons
tied under her chin, and a bunch of crushed camellias of the same
becoming hue nestled against her shell-like ear. A light cashmere
overdress surmounted a petticoat of crimson velvet, and tiny jewels were
fastened at her ears and throat. The flush of excitement that mantled
her fair young face, lent an additional charm to her countenance, as she
looked into her lover's face with all the eagei joy and confidence that
filled her heart.
Bijou looked a little more serious than usual, as he knocked the ashes
from the end of his cigar.
"_Ma foi_, you are enchanting to-night, Josephine," said he by way of
greeting, "but as it looks like a storm, we must make business brisk. I
have come to-night, Fifine," he said, taking her hand, "to ask a proof
of the words you I uttered last night. I want you to show me bravely
that you do think a little of me."
"Only say the word, Bijou. Anything that is in my power. I will do
it--anything that is not her voice faltered.
"Is not what?" he asked very tenderly, bending over her, and then she
regretted having doubted him. How could _he_ ask her anything that was
not right? Poor Fifine.
"Never mind," she stammered, "I will do anything I can to prove the
truth of last nights words."
"Darling" was the muttered answer "Come here, Fifine, nearer to me, I
have something to show to your eyes alone--something that has no real
worth at present, but I which will be a sacred thing in a little while."
Fifine, her eyes open wide, and a curious expression of wonder in her
face, bent over his broad shoulder. She saw nestling in its bed of ruby
velvet, a plain gold band, tiny as her slender finger, but rich and
She was slow to understand this silent surprise, and only said in a
"How lovely it is."
Then Bijou looked earnestly at her, and his voice was almost mournful as
"If it is beautiful as it lies there in its folds of velvet, meaningless
and comparatively useless, what would it be, do you think, were it a
bond of union between two kindred souls--if it laid the duties of love,
honor and submission on one, those of love, respect and kindness on the
other, if it were the outward sign of a man's intense devotion and the
safeguard of a woman's honor, if it was a love that bound two creatures
to each other first, and then to their Creator--what then, Fifine?"
"Oh, Bijou '" she cried, "you excite me with such grave speeches. If it
were all these things it would indeed be sacred."
"Come, Fifine, you have said you will do my wish; let me place this
golden band upon your ringer, and insure you to me for the days to
What sensational story she had ever read could equal this? Was ever any
thing so purely romantic or exalted? In that moment all the dreary days
of her lonely life seemed blotted out by the exquisite realization of a
new happiness that was stealing over her. But still, there was an inward
struggle in her soul. Thoughts of her father's wrath thrust themselves
between her and her gratification. She lifted up her hands in fear, and
said in a hushed voice.
"Bijou, I do indeed love you, but _this_ I dare not do, _this_ is too
much. It is all so sudden, so soon." She recoiled a little as she spoke,
and his face darkened ominously.
"Then your words were false!" he said in a cold, cruel voice, "and since
you have deceived me I will ask nothing more. I did not deserve this
from you, but we part in time."
He stood proudly up and prepared to leave. There was a struggle in the
breast of his victim--that he could see. In another moment she was close
"Do not go, Bijou," she said piteously, "after you have taught me to
love you as I do, oh! do not leave Fifine. Tell me what you wish, my
Bijou I am ready to do your will."
There was an unpleasant smile of triumph stealing over his handsome
mouth. He stretched forth his hand, and took her trembling one in his.
"You must wear this golden band," he said, "as a token of my
earnestness, this will bind us one to another Let me see it on your
But she shrank again from his grasp. She was frightfully agitated. The
low angry rumble of distant thunder was in her ears, the trees were
swaying to and fro, and the leaves were turned upon their stems--the
storm was drawing nearer!
At last she spoke again.
"You cannot mean, that I must become your wife in this strange way,
Bijou," her voice was husky and trembling, "you have not the power."
He smothered a curse, and his brow contracted. "Power? why have I not
power as well as another? are the cold words of a ceremony more binding
than the outpourings of a burning heart? Of what avail are cold
formalities to souls that are blended already in devotion and love?"
"Hush Bijou," she interposed, frightened at his vehemence, "such words
are a profanation. A marriage ceremony could not increase our love, but
it is indispensable all the same."
He saw she was firm and that the concession must come from him.
"I see you are a slave to public opinion and church authority," he said,
"but this need not be an obstacle between us and our cherished plans. It
is growing late now, but if we make good speed, we could reach the
village before, dark, and secure the indispensable"--he laid a peculiar
stress on the word, "though unnecessary services of the curate".
"But my father--the hour," cried the distracted girl.
"They of course are of more consequence than your love and your
promise," he answered coldly, "decide Fifine, for I am impatient. Your
home or your love, separation or your promise."
There was a moment of irresolution, but only one, ere the deluded girl
yielded everything to the object of her insane devotion. A satisfied
look stole over his face as he drew her arm within his, and prepared to
leave the place.
Fifine knew very little of the village roads. Bijou though not residing
in the place more than three months, led through the thickest and most
unfrequented paths. It was growing dark. A yellowish sort of twilight, a
forerunner of the storm, was now giving place to a heavy pall of black,
that was stealing a descent, noiseless and quiet as a snowflake over the
earth. The stillness was doubly oppressive to the unfortunate girl, who
leaning on the arm of the handsome Bijou, passed out through the quiet
rustic gate, leaving her home and her father amid such rich
surroundings, to brave the world with a man of whom she knew nothing,
save that she loved him madly, and that his name was Bijou.
Outside the garden gate, at a little distance, stood a small covered
buggy, and a horse, the latter tied to a tree and pawing the ground with
irritation. Fifine was a little surprised.
"I provided for the best or worst," Bijou said untying the restless
animal, and helping Josephine to enter the carriage. Then silence fell
on them again. They drove very fast, for the darkness was thickening and
Bijou required all his tact, to engineer his horse safely through the
path. Fifine at times would forget the rashness of the step she had just
taken, and would fancy herself back under the old trees that, each
moment, were being left farther and farther behind, until some short
words from Bijou, broke the spell of her reverie and hurled her back
into the strange reality.
They drove for a very long time, and at last Fifine could discern little
lights twinkling in the distance, through the dark surroundings.
"How long it is!" she said once, a little wearily.
"Patience," Bijou answered, "we are near enough now," and then silence
fell again, which was unbroken until the horse; steaming and panting,
stopped before the door of a small house. The room into which he led her
was low and scantily furnished, and only the dim light of a tallow
candle, helped to make things discernible through the awful blackness
that had settled down. Great leaping shadows danced over the low-ceiling
and dingy walls, looking like mocking fiends to the despairing girl,
whose heart was filled with a nameless terror at the consequences of her
own rashness. But Bijou held her hand firmly within his own, and spoke
reassuring words all the while. The clergyman advanced from a corner of
the room--a tall spare man whose features being entirely new to
Josephine, were scarcely discernible in the dim, unsteady light of the
candle. He seemed not surprised at their coming, which in itself
surprised Fifine very much. He coolly and systematically proceeded to
"tie the marriage knot." His voice was terribly monotonous, and the
words sounded more like a "_Dies irae_" in a _requiem_ service, than
those whose mission it was to crown the happiness of two young hearts.
They had scarce begun the solemn service, when a great flash of
lightning filled the small close room, followed by a roar of thunder
that drowned for a time the sepulchral voice of the clergyman. Fifine
drew nearer to her lover and looked pleadingly into his face. But
something in his eyes chilled and repelled her, she knew not why.
The storm increased, great peals of boisterous thunder rolled over their
heads, the rain so long pent up, came pattering down m fury around them.
The ceremony however was progressing, the binding words were sounding
through the dingy little room, the ring was nestling now on Fifine's
trembling finger, the closing sentence was being uttered, when a wild
flash of greenish lightning crossed the little window near them, filling
the room with its lurid glare, lending a most unearthly appearance to
the pallid faces of the two men before her. A horrible feeling came over
her, but it did not last long. As the flash disappeared, a gush of wind
entered a broken pane, the candle went blank out before her stupid gaze,
and she forgot everything in that one instant, for a merciful Providence
took away her consciousness, and with a shriek she fell, a motionless
heap on the floor.
My curdling blood, my madd'ning brain,
In silent anguish I sustain
And still thy heart, without partaking
One pang, exults--while mine is breaking
She turned on her side and woke, at least she opened her eyes in a wide
stare, but could see nothing. All was black, opaque darkness around her.
She raised herself on her elbow, her back ached, her head ached, every
joint was stiffened. What could it mean? Had she fallen out of bed, she
wondered? She tried to move but could not. She called "Anna! Papa!" but
her voice sent back a mocking echo from the black stillness, no maid, no
parent, hearkened to her cry. She looked all around. A colorless
emptiness surrounded her. She stretched out her feeble hand, but nothing
answered to her eager search. Was she alone in a creation from which the
sun had been cancelled? Where was her memory? What had she done last?
She tried to think. She had been painting--oh yes! but it grew so dark
she had to give it up. She must have fallen asleep after it, she began
to think consolingly, but no! she had gone into her own little room and
put on her daintiest apparel; she remembered pinning the bunch of
camellias in her bonnet. But even this was no clue, she forgot after
that. Was she in the open air or indoors? She could feel no breath or
breeze, nor was there anything within reach to reassure her. She was too
puzzled just now to feel much frightened. She only wanted to think.
Instinctively she raised her hand to her head, and then--memory came
back with one full swoop as she felt the heavy golden band on her
finger. A painful rehearsal of all she had done passed before her eyes,
and when she remembered the fatal flash of lightning and the darkness
that followed, she fell shrieking back on the hard floor. She knew now
that she was alone in the dark dingy little house, that had terrified
her so much at first. She raised herself again, tremblingly, and
supported her reclining form on her hand, her arm resting on the cold
boards. "But I am not alone," she said reassuringly; "Bijou is here,"
then raising her voice a little, she called "Bijou! Bijou!" but the
silent chamber only sent back a dismal echo of her own voice. Then
louder still she cried "Bijou! Bijou! Bijou!" her voice gathering
courage as the maddening truth forced itself on her bewildered brain.
Still no answer. She grew terrified at having broken the awful
stillness. She strained her eyes to peer through the cruel darkness that
enveloped her. No use--it was only looking through one blackness into
another. She covered her weeping face with her little trembling hands,
moaning and wailing as she rocked herself to and fro on the hard floor.
Poor girl! She was only one of the million victims of that folly which
rules universal girl-hood to-day. She had not been taught the lesson of
life as every girl should know it. Like others of her age, all over the
wide world, here in our own flourishing city as well, she had been given
the elements of a valuable knowledge to play with, and fool with, and
yawn over to her heart's content. This was all.
According to popular ideas, there are so many other things to be
instilled into young girl's heads of primary importance, that education
takes its own course, and enthusiastic mothers stay up half the night
curling the flaxen hair, or paring the promising eyelashes of their
pretty babies, but what becomes of the little heart that is growing wild
for want of a tender solicitous hand to cultivate its helpless soil?
What is the use? A handful of caramels goes a far longer way towards
calming a fit of juvenile temper than a word of effective remonstrance,
that will only spoil the pretty face, on mama's reception day too, or
just before some liliputian tea-party. True it is that it is far more
universal a practice than in former years to send one's children to
school. But where does the advantage come in? The embryo woman is packed
off to the most stylish boarding-school, she must be allowed a thousand
deviations from the rules, on account of weak nerves or some equally
imaginary disorder. She picks up in her hours of good humor a smattering
of French and German, music or elocution, painting and fancy-work, but
these painful superficialities only ruin the girl, who, had she been
left without those oppressive appendages, would be an honest whole-
hearted woman. Instead of this, our drawing-rooms are crowded with
affected, insipid girls, who, being girls, are fair enough to view, but
whose minds and hearts are prudently closed to inspection. These are the
perfections of lollipop misses who left home for boarding-school, five,
six or eight years ago, and come back conceited ninnies, who imagine
every good-looking man must be appropriated, whether he will or not, as
their slavish adorer.
These are no untrue assertions. Ask anyone of sound, natural judgment,
how many sensible, edifying, worthy women are found at once in a
ball-room or concert-room, or any other rendezvous of fashionable
society. The answer, if not convincing, would at least be surprising.
And yet, every year, numbers of these golden-haired, blue eyed girls
leave the altar on the arm of some well-to-do young fellow, his, until
death, and no one in the admiring throng of spectators doubts that the
sequel of this bright day's doings will be one of endless felicity. But
they are deceived. It is the wife's lack of sympathy in the hour of
distress, her incapacity to solace the troubled mind and heart of the
man who has loved her, that drives the young husband from his home, to
seek distraction in the bottomless wine-cup. It is a repulsive picture,
but a true one, and those who have not seen it yet for themselves will
meet the stern reality some day, perhaps, before very long.
These deviatory details may enable the readers to understand more fully,
and to condemn less readily the actions of Josephine de Maistre. She had
placed unbounded confidence in the man who had come to her with his
well-learned tales of love. She was young, susceptible and
inexperienced, and had not thought that night should close in upon her
bright, beautiful, cloudless day. But it was different now. The
impulsive, generous, confiding nature was slowly being moulded by the
hand of a bitter experience, into a skeptical mistrust of humanity,
dreadful to see in a woman. All the careless years of her girlhood
passed in mockery before her eyes to-night, until her poor heart was
nigh bursting with pent-up sorrow and grief. She dropped her cold clammy
hands into her lap and sat upright in the darkness. How long had she
been here? Was it an hour, a day, or a week? How long must she remain
here now? She felt in her breast for her pocket-book, and a look of
undying scorn stole into her eyes when she found it was gone. She was
penniless, alone, helpless; would this darkness ever dissipate. If she
could only die, or go mad, or sleep again, she thought, as she threw
herself passionately on the floor moaning and sobbing most piteously.
Suddenly she sprang up again, maddened by pain, suspense and fear.
Holding out her trembling arms in the darkness, she screamed
despairingly, appealingly, "Bijou, my lover, my traitor, where are you?
Come back and free me from this awful terror, rescue me, or kill me,
anything--oh anything but this frightful solitude."
Still no sound answered her despairing accents as she dashed herself
recklessly back on the floor, weeping and sobbing afresh. Then there was
a moment or two of heavy silence, for it is in silence the heart breaks.
After that the girl sat up again, with her feet tucked under her skirts.
She brushed back her matted hair from her swollen face and clasping her
hands over her knees, she filled the small dark room with a sharp
ringing laugh. It was something horrible to hear--a voice once so soft
and plaintive, now grating out shrill accents in a hard mocking tone.
"Ha, ha, ha," she sneered, "the brave monsieur Bijou, how he played with
_la folle Fifine_. Was he not too sure perhaps? Fifine can love, but oh!
more delicious, Fifine can hate! yes hate!! hate!!!" she repeated with a
malicious pleasure, emphasizing the word, "and she can curse _le beau
"Oh!" she cried joining her hands in an iron grip, "may sickness and
poverty and misfortune waylay him! may he love one who will break his
heart! may this life be to him a temporary hell, to prepare for the
eternal one in the next! Ha, ha, that is good Fifine, _pourtant, le beau
Bijou_ would be vexed to hear that, he would be shocked. We'll tell a
secret to this brave young man. The world is big, Bijou, and Fifine is
only a small weak child, but she loves to hate, and she loves revenge.
She will walk till her feet are blistered, and her body worn and tired,
but she will find Bijou, she owes him a little debt and she must pay it.
She gives the devil his due, ha, ha, ha," and the wild unearthly laugh
resounded once more through the dismal darkened chamber. In this
horrible strain she continued chattering to herself and menacing Bijou,
until suddenly she stopped short and bent over in a listening attitude.
A sound had caught her ear. Something had broken the frightful silence
besides her rambling maniacal chatter. Some other animate thing was
within her hearing. She was breathless for many moments as she glared,
eyes and mouth open, in the direction from which the sound had
proceeded. She listened devouringly and could now distinctly hear a slow
regular breathing, somewhere near, but which way she could not tell. Her
flesh crept with a new fear. She dreaded being alone, and yet she
preferred solitude to the knowledge that some one was coming to her in
the darkness. She crawled on her knees a few paces forward, but as the
sound decreased she crept silently back in the opposite direction. Still
she could not hear more distinctly.
She therefore made a great stride towards another point, and now she
could hear very plainly the regular breaths coming and going as of one
in deep sleep. This suspense was worse than any. She laid herself out on
the floor, rested her elbows on the boards and buried her chin in her
palms. Wild thoughts of hatred and revenge chased one another through
her unsteady mind, but still she could discern nothing but this tranquil
respiration. She was weakening now. It must have been three hours from
the time she awoke first, and yet there was no sign of light or life,
nothing but this strange breathing, wherever it was. She was growing
drowsy and threw herself back on the floor, with one fair white arm
thrown over her head. She had advanced considerably to the left of the
room, though the impenetrable darkness did not allow her to know it. Her
breast heaved in great irregular sighs, and her long lashes drooped
wearily over her tired eyes. Another moment and sleep would have come in
its precious mercy to solace the poor afflicted soul, the wild staring
eyes had been subdued into drowsiness, and the angel of balm was coaxing
the tired limbs into repose, when a loud sigh broke upon the sleep-
inducing silence, and disturbed the unfortunate Fifine. She opened her
eyes suddenly again and waited for a repetition. This time she heard
several queer sounds, like scratching and eating. Overcome at last by
suspense, she started up, but in doing so, she knocked her head
violently against some object that stood close by her. In her madness
she never heeded the pain, but stretched out her hands for something to
lean against, when fortunately she laid one of them on a stumpy
candlestick, in the saucer of which she found a couple of greasy
matches. A cry of joy escaped her as she struck a light, as quickly as
her nervous fingers and glad excitement allowed her. At least now the
horrible spell of darkness and uncertainty was broken. The candle hardly
took at first, but as she watched it eagerly, with both hands around the
timid spark, it spluttered and flared up into a tall lanky flame that
made her surroundings look visible, if not bright.
It was the same little room to which Bijou had brought her for her
wedding, she did not know how long ago. Now that she looked at it in a
calm, keen scrutiny, she noticed that these stray pieces of homely,
furniture had been thrown around, merely to give the place the
appearance of being inhabited. No one had lived there for a long time,
anyone could see. Great tangled cobwebs hung all over the wall and
celling, and one corner of the miserable apartment was a perfect pool,
from rain that had dropped through the defective roof. When Fifine had
taken in these surroundings in her quick, searching glance, she tried to
discern the source of the noises she had heard. This was an easy matter.
Very near to where she stood, was a long dingy door that closed with a
latch, and from behind this Fifine heard the sounds still issuing.
Prepared for the worst, she got down on her knees and holding the candle
a little way above her head, she raised the latch and pushed the door
violently in. The next instant a great shaggy dog was bounding around
her, lashing his paws on the floor and attempting to lick her hands and
face. She smiled a little first when she remembered her fear, but her
next feeling was one of joy, at the new and strange companionship, which
might yet prove of service to her. Laying the candle down upon the
floor, she drew the animal towards her and began to examine him. He was
a large, well-built, glossy-haired fellow, with earnest eyes and a long,
loose tongue, that hung a great way out of his mouth. Around his shaggy
neck was a silver collar, on which was engraved "Sailor," and the two
large initials, "N.B.," and after further scrutiny, she deciphered on
the margin of the band, "I. Kennedy, Engraver, St. Paul St, Montreal."
She threw her arms wildly about the animal and hugged him
affectionately. At least she had a clue. In her new joy she quite
forgone very precaution she had planned before, but now she was brought
back from her ecstasy by remarking that her candle was almost burnt out.
She had no other, and she must be content to sit there and await day
break, or escape while there was yet a spark of light. She seized this
last hope, for taking the dog by the collar, she dragged him towards the
door of exit, and as she tried to undo the fastenings, she talked wildly
to herself and to him. The door was fastened on the outside, proof
positive, that she had been knowingly and heartlessly bound within those
wretched walls. This excited all her latent hatred again, and with the
mad strength of defiance and revenge, she tried to tear the fastenings
apart with her naked fingers. She toiled bravely and fast. The light of
the candle was leaping up and down, threatening to expire. Only once or
twice did she pause to fling back the dishevelled hair that blinded her
eyes, but at last she was rewarded, for with one supreme effort she
succeeded in dragging in the door, and opening for herself a passage
into the outside world.
"Not, bad Fifine," she laughed, as the night air swept in on her
feverish head, "we'll get _le beau Bijou_ yet. He'll say Fifine is mad,
but we'll see--Fifine is not mad--she hates him though, and she will
kill him, ha! ha!"
She walked about chattering wildly, holding Sailor by his collar, and
saying senseless things to him every now and then. At last, when she had
gone a long way without being able to discern a path, she sank down to
rest near a clump of trees. Twining her arms round Sailor's shaggy neck,
she laid her head on his warm body and soon fell into a heavy dreamless
Yes! there are real mourners--I have seen
A fair, sad girl, mild-suffering; and serene.
The gray of the morning was stealing out from behind the tree-tops,
filling the woodland with a dim uncertain light. The tall spectral forms
and great crouching figures of the darkness, now proved to be the limbs
and broken trunks of gigantic trees. With the misty light of the morning
all the ghouls and goblins of the night left the lonely forest and
retreated to their secret abodes until dusk would come again.
A cold cheerless change was coming over the earth and two equestrians
trotting silently through the wood, at this early hour, shivered and
shook in the raw air of the morning. They spoke very little. The elder
one was smoking, the other was looking moodily on before him. Presently
the former stretched himself far on one side of his horse and thrust his
head enquiringly forward. He took his pipe from his mouth and looked
"Philip, my son, what do you see there?"
"Where?" the other asked indifferently.
"Inside those twisted trees."
Philip glanced in the direction indicated, and in an instant was
dismounted. He gave the reins to his companion and walked briskly to the
spot that had excited their attention. When he reached the place he
halted suddenly and looked aghast. An exclamation of horror escaped his
lips. He bent over the object and beheld the figure of a human being,
clad in female attire, sleeping on the crouched body of a great
Newfoundland dog. But the arms and fingers that encircled and clutched
the faithful animal were daubed with blood, and here and there on the
fretful face of the sleeper were dried patches of crimson. The matted
hair fell loosely round the regular features, but the picture on the
whole was at once the strangest and most touching one it was possible to
see. Philip turned silently and beckoned his companion to approach. Then
both of them bent curiously over the form of the girl to ascertain
whether she slept a temporary or an eternal sleep, and when her distinct
breathing convinced them that life was not extinct, they called her and
tried to awaken her. For a long time their efforts were vain. Nothing
seemed capable of dispelling the stupor that had settled over her. She
only tossed her head wearily from one side to the other when they spoke,
and frowned peevishly, as though their words annoyed her. Once she
raised her blood-stained hand and the two men saw with renewed surprise
that she wore a wedding ring on her slender finger. This touched them
anew, and they resolved to move her between them to the village, where a
doctor could be consulted and her wants be carefully attended to.
But when they laid their hands upon her the dog showed his teeth
threateningly, growling angrily in their faces. At the sound of her
defender's voice, the girl lifted her eyelids and glared wildy at the
two figures standing above her. She tightened her greedy hold around the
animal's neck and screamed:
"Don't touch him, don't dare--he--and my revenge--all that's
left--revenge! Ha, ha, ha.--"
Her voice died out and her eyes closed drowsily again. The two men
stared at one another in mute surprise. Then the younger of the two,
making a last effort, bent over her and said coaxingly:
"Let me take you off the damp ground, you'll have your death of cold,"
She started and looked strangely at him.
"Not death," she said in a tone of defiance, "not death until I have
done my work."
"Tell us your name, good woman," the older man put in, not heeding her
"Name? I have no name now--outcast--_jolle_-if you like. But I will win
my name back, I will--"
"Of course you will," sad one consolingly, looking at his companion and
tapping his forehead knowingly.
"Come, we will begin right away; let us go now," and he raised himself
up to start.
With a little coaxing and reassurance, they persuaded her to lean on
them and rise up, but the poor little face became distorted and the eyes
closed languidly as if she suffered intensely. She stood bravely up
however, but in a moment she tottered and sank back again. Her
companions saw that their efforts were useless in her present condition,
so it was decided that while the elder man remained to watch her, the
younger one should gallop to the village and secure the assistance
necessary to transport her from this lonely spot.
Unfortunately the path chosen by Bijou on the night of her elopement
with him, led to a succession of roads which wound almost interminably
through woods and fields adjoining another village, situated some miles
distant from the one they had left. This settlement was called "The
Lower Farms." It was to this place that Philip Campbell and his uncle
Douglas were travelling on that morning when they found Fifine in the
wood. Bijou had made a very round-about trip, bringing the girl at least
twenty miles from her own neighborhood, and leaving her in a spot where,
if found, she would be looked upon as a resident of the Lower Farms.
With all possible speed, Philip Campbell rode into the village, going
straight to the doctor of the place, to whom he confided their strange
_rencontre_. Half an hour later, the zealous man of medicine with his
attendant and Phil, were journeying back to the spot where Douglas
Campbell kept kindly watch over the unfortunate female.
"Jukes and earls, and diamonds and pearls
And pretty girls was spoorting there.
And some beside (the rogues) I spied,
Behind the winches coorting there."
"This is our waltz, Miss Edgeworth, are you prepared?" asked Vivian
Standish, as he bowed before the girl in black satin, who was conversing
gayly with a fine-looking elderly gentleman.
"So soon," Honor said, somewhat surprised, "why, I thought--"
"Yes, I know you did," he interrupted gayly, "but do listen to that
Honor rose, thus appealed to, and smiling an adieu to her first
companion, she thrust her round white arm into Vivian's, as he led her
triumphantly into the ball-room, where many couples were already on the
"See, we have lost some of it already," he exclaimed, putting his arm
around her slender waist. They had to wait another minute thus, to allow
more formidable couples to move past them, recruits in "the
terpsichorean art" who were ploughing their ways agonizingly through the
crowd, leading their warm fat partners on the laces and frills of other
ladies' dresses. As Honor and Vivian joined the moving mass, they
attracted many admiring glances. They were well matched in size, both
good-looking, and remarkably fine dancers, and as they glided here and
there many criticizing whispers followed them.
Little Miss McCable, who has the reputation of being one of Ottawa's
best dancers, bites her lower lips sarcastically, as an admirer of Miss
Edgeworth's asks her, "does she not find her dancing faultless," and
declares she "kaunt see what there is so striking about her."
But heedless of those who surround them, Vivian leads his fair partner
through the crowd, as the strains of waltzes picked from "Olivette" and
"Patience," flood the ball-room. Any girl may boast of being free from
susceptibilities of a disastrous kind, but few girls _a la mode_ to-day
can overcome the resistless fascination of a dreamy waltz, and Honor
Edgeworth who was the very poetry of motion in herself, was lost to
everything else but her waltz at this moment--how well Vivian Standish
guided, she thought--how well he held himself! how _distingue_ he
He had begun to puzzle her a little, and though she certainly did not
like him, there was a sort of strange attraction for her in his voice,
appearance and manner. I wonder if men can know what there is in a
It is a precious talisman that serves at all times, and the one
infallible means a man has to find his way to a woman's heart, for a
woman never forgets the pathos, and sweetness of a voice that has called
her "his own."
Vivian Standish had a voice to covet and to envy, he said the most
matter-of-fact thing in a way that captivated the most careless
listener, and the girls declared that when he spoke to them they were
"perfectly distracted." Ottawa is the most interesting spot on earth for
a person of any extraordinary ability to gain notoriety. If it is a girl
the male element is effervescing all at once, men fall in love with her
in turns, she is almost devoured with attention at evening parties, and
visits all the suggestive nooks, and sits on the stairs with the
handsomest and toniest of Ottawa's "big boys;" even married men get the
craze, for Ottawa boasts of quite a little circle of benedicts, who are
not slaves to petty prejudices inflicted as a rule on the married, and
though not open advocates of "Free Love," they take all the privileges
that hang around the border limit, for they do not doubt, but that any
one might know when they are seen escorting pretty flirts, riding,
driving, or walking through such delightful walks as "Beechwood," or
"Richmond Road," that the topic of conversation is painfully appropriate
to their vocations, and as a proof if any one were to join them, at the
moment, they would be either admiring nature or art, or anything in fact
but each other.
It makes as much difference in Ottawa as well as elsewhere, whether a
young lady be only an instructress of music, but exceedingly pretty, or
the daughter of a cabinet minister with a homely face and awkward gait.
A man is a man in spite of society's most binding laws; but
circumstances are so delightfully blended when a girl is rich,
good-looking, clever--and disengaged, it is the chance of a lifetime,
and were it not that such "chances" as these, usurp the opportunites of
Ottawa's patient and less endowed girls, there would be fewer of these
old young ladies, who haunt the drawing rooms and public balls of our
city, year after year with the same result. Two or three years ought to
satisfy any girl of ordinary ambition, and yet there are tireless
maidens who only remain in their ninth or tenth winter, because of some
petty constitutional ailing, that makes a better excuse than saying,
"there's no use trying any more, I'm a year older this year and have
less chance," and so they begin to settle into a sound resignation, and
snub the more presentable daughters of social inferiors; they either
turn into first-class Sunday school teachers, and denounce the pomps of
a world whose excess has brought them to solitary womanhood, or they
make unrivalled depositaries and disseminators of the local news of
their little sphere, but they are as admirable an invention as any
other, as they have many hours of leisure to engage in charitable and
other occupations. There are plenty of these amiable "everlastings" at
Mr. Bellemare's to-night, some of them apparently much appreciated, for
while their homely, ungainly figures are whirled around the room on the
arm of some calculating youth, fresh blooming girls must bite the ends
of their feathery fans in a passion of disappointment, as they stand
against the wall, or admire the pictures or statuary, or it does not
matter what, so long as they need not look straight into the fun they
cannot share. What a glorious epoch of womanly dignity, independence and
worthiness! It is a picture one likes to draw for the contemplative
admirers of the age.
A girl who makes up her mind to "go out" after leaving school, is I
think, the most foolish and wretched girl under the sun, unless her
parents or other relations have either a political, social or money
influence to strengthen her, for many a daughter looks regretfully back
upon the foolish steps which led her by contact into a world of fashion
The exquisite ball-dress came home one night with the little paper from
"Cheapside," or the "Argyle House," bearing its value represented in
high numbers; a big account was opened in those dangerous books, a
necessary affliction nevertheless, where the daughters will be
"fashionable" and persist in having the same indulgences as the
daughters of those who have less manners by far, but who can substitute
good breeding easily by an abundance of "filthy lucre." In a ball-room,
she is alone in a multitude, most often wishing heartily she were rolled
comfortably in the blankets of her cosy bed, she may be a nice girl, men
admire her as a rule, but men are too dependent in Ottawa to declare
their opinions openly, when they thereby tread upon society's corns.
Although this is naturally a democratic country, social ostracism is not
unknown amongst us. The daughter of any one who "keeps a window," or is
at all engaged in trade, is as effectually excluded from society as if
she were a moral leper, and although her attainments, intellectually and
otherwise, be far superior to those of her more favored sister, (who is
very frequently both stupid and uninteresting), her chances of an
invitation are small indeed, until her father is in a position to head a
subscription list or an election fund, and then, presto! all the
insuperable difficulties that previously existed, magically disappear.
The brainless families of representative men, must of course monopolise
attention, if all the rest went to eternal perdition, and what does it
matter how vexedly a fellow tugs his moustache over the insipid drawl of
some "powerful" man's daughter, while he eyes most enviously the form of
her less safely established sister, and wishes to--he was some other
fellow, and not himself.
Honor Edgeworth, strange to say, beautiful, and courted though she was
in Ottawa, failed to catch any sweetness therein. While such a thing was
new, it amused her, but already the shallow novelty had worn off, and it
had become monotonous. Perhaps, if things were different, she could have
entered with more relish into her world of gay distractions, but she
knew, beforehand, that there are voids and vacancies in the heart, that
can never be filled by the trivial pleasures of high life. When the eye
has begun to scan the world for a particular face and form that it loves
to look upon, it instinctively shuns both crowded rooms and festive
This was why Honor looked so indifferent to the sensation she created
this evening at the Bellemare's, gliding through the ball-room on the
arm of the handsomest man present, but for all that her mind was not
lazy, she was thinking deeply enough the while, leaning on the stalwart
shoulder of Vivian Standish, drinking in the suggestive strains of the
music to which they danced. Honor was also yielding to the influence of
memory that had been awakened within her, that memory that pensively
turned backwards the unforgotten pages of her past, filling her with a
sad discontent, that soon betrayed itself in the wearied expression of
impatience which stole into her eyes and over her whole face, and while
so many girls around her, could have hated her for her luck, she sighed
heavily under her rich brocades, and whispered to herself, "others look
so completely happy, why need things be so different with me?"
Presently the arm that encircled her slender waist released its
pressure, and a sad earnest voice, said in a half anxious tone, into the
pretty pink ear:
"Why do you look so worried and fretful, are you tired?"
"No--yes--a little," she answered wearily.
"Let me get you some refreshment," was the solicitous rejoinder. "Come
in here, Miss Edgeworth, see how cosy and appropriate it looks."
Mechanically she yielded, and on the arm of her admirer passed into a
spot which was a veritable artificial summer. It may not seem consistent
with the rest of Honor Edgeworth's character, to say that, though
defiant and independent, with regard to every other influence in life,
she found herself unable to battle against the strange and unpleasant
feeling, that invariably filled her in the company of this man.
She had read and heard of "will power," and of the strength of the moral
character asserting itself, despite the most gigantic efforts on the
part of the victim, and though she was not inclined to raise this petty
instance to the dignity of such wonderful manifestations, it yet savored
of mystery to her, and thrust a repulsive consciousness of her own moral
weakness upon her.
She was a "good girl," in the broadest sense; there was no nest of
social vices inside that fair, honest face; the diplomacy and duplicity
of fashion were unknown to her guileless heart, she was solid worth in
every way, even while she sat under the broad leaves of rare branches,
toying with her silver spoon, and listening to the earnest voice beside
her. The wavy, chestnut braids that bound her shapely head, were natures
own great gift to her, and had never been stowed away in idleness during
the hours of her _deshabille_: the little tide of pink that ebbed and
flowed over her fair face had never lain condensed within box or bottle
upon her dressing-table, her face and form in all their loveliness were
genuine, the double row of white even teeth, that gave a great charm to
her pretty mouth, had never dreamed their early days away in dental
show-cases, nor bathed all night by a toothless maiden's bed-side in a
glass of water; much less did she ever tempt herself to encourage the
authors of those wonderful advertisements that grace our daily papers,
and which introduce to the world, renowned dimple makers, nose refiners,
and other improvers of personal deficiencies.
It was perhaps the freshness of her beauty and the originally of her
manner, that attracted her many satellites around her.
Lady Fullerton asks, "Is not beauty power?" and should I undertake to
interpret the answer of the multitude I could but say--"it is."
There was not one in creation who knew better how to wield his weapons
than did Vivian Standish. Many a time he had smiled inwardly at seeing
the fruitless struggles of his victims to appear unmoved by his winning
ways, but now, for once, he was balancing his precious judgment on a
doubt. He was not too sure, but that this frank, clear, virtuous girl
could read him through. Sometimes he felt uncomfortable. Just now, he
felt as dogged as any ambitious school-boy ever did over an obstinate
theorem in Euclid--here was a problem--there were all the rules for its
clear solution, yet the answer never would come right. Perhaps he was
preparing for another attempt, as he drew his chair closer to her and
looked into her face, while they sat in the spot of all spots, the most
flattering to his designs.
She greeted this new movement with a look of sudden surprise, but,
unheeding, he bent over her slightly and said in his same provokingly
"Why did you wear that cruel little rose-bud to-night, Miss Edgeworth?"
This is the sort of pleasant thing that Honor dislikes: whose memory or
anticipation is always sweeter than the actual experience. She did not
look at him this time, but still, toying with her spoon and glass, she
"Because--I like it best of all the flowers--"
"On account of its--" interrupted Vivian, and then paused, looked at
her, and waited,
"Yes, exactly," Honor said, looking straight into his deep eyes, this
time. "It is on that very account."
"I was going to say--'meaning'--" he almost whispered back.
"Well--?" Honor drawled indifferently.
"Take it off then--it is the only unbecoming thing about you."
"I infer," returned Honor, slightly arching her brows, "that you expect
me to obey your word of command?"
"Which I spoke without the meanest right to do so, I suppose?" Vivian
said humbly, "in that case, I cancel it and apologize."
"That is still, almost another command," she retorted provokingly.
"How so?" asked her listener, becoming interested.
"For pardon," Honor said, "I never knew a man who did not flatter
himself that his apology satisfied for the grossest indiscretion."
He stood aimlessly up, and knocked a withered leaf of oleander from a
tall branch that scented the spot where they were sitting, but instead
of returning to his seat, he leaned his crossed arms on the back of her
broad chair, and looking down on her, answered:
"Why are you a little less generous to us, poor unfortunates than you
are to every one else?"
He was so gentle to her, he could not reproach her with a fault, and he
had therefore called this a less degree of generosity.
Honor began to feel the effects of playing with dangerous tools, but
without knowing that such an experience, is the greatest danger that can
beset an untried life.
"How rashly you do presume, Mr. Standish," said Honor, "as if you could
tell, positively, what I thought of 'you poor unfortunates.'"
"As if you could help showing us, your lack of appreciation in every
possible way," he returned, still leaning on the cushioned back of the
chair, where she rested her head languidly.
"Then, let it be so, for if you judge me by my action only, without
bringing any of your own calculations to bear, I will be satisfied with
"Miss Edgeworth," began he, changing his tone to one of curious interest
and earnestness, "have you a bosom friend?"
Honor looked suddenly up at him, and grew serious.
"I have acquaintances who presume to question me, as though they had the
rights of one," she said, sinking lazily back in her chair.
"Then, they usurp _somebody's_ privileges, by so doing--do they not?"
The girl looked indignantly at him, and only withdrew her powerful
glance slowly, as she said:
"Mr. Standish, I find it strange, that you should think me utterly
different from other girls; pray, undeceive yourself I have my friends,
and loves, and follies, and caprices like the rest and will have all my
life. I expect to to be just as foolish in my love affairs some day, as
you men generally consider most girls to be."
"I hope so," he answered meaningly, and as she rose to leave the
conservatory, for another dance, she heard him mutter: "for my sake."
"He whom thou fearest will, to ease its pain,
Lay his cold hand upon thy aching heart,
Soothe the terrors of thy troubled brain,
And bid the shadows of earth's griefs depart."
"You had better watch him closely, Mrs. Pratt, his condition is
precarious, and as he has been thrown on your hands, do not treat him
"You ken bet I'll not," said the matronly female, who stood half hidden
in the humble doorway, from which Dr. Belford had just made his exit.
"Lawks, doctor dear, I'll have an eye to him, jest as if he was my very
own. It'ud not be me 'at would neglec' any Christian that fate had
thrown on me hands."
"I thought so," said the doctor, half apologetically. "I'll call again
shortly," and then, gathering in the fringe of his carriage apron, Dr.
Belford bade Mrs. Pratt a temporary farewell, and was off.
The small shabby brown door closed gently enough, and separated Mrs.
Pratt from the whole moving mass of animate confusion that reigned in
the streets outside. As she stopped, on her way through the narrow
passage within, to straighten the rag mat at the door of the front room,
she sighed perplexedly and soliloquized resignedly:
"Fever! above all things else--bless the sickness--likely as not it
could be the death o' me, and yet, how could I send the lad away or go
back on him now."
A hissing noise from the kitchen, transported the meditative Mrs. Pratt
in a wonderful hurry from her philanthropic reasoning to a saucepan of
potatoes that were bubbling furiously in the water, over a good fire in
her cracked cooking stove; but though she busied herself with her daily
duties for the next hour, her face was unusually serious, and her mind
agitated. She was reflecting earnestly on the new charge that had been
thrust upon her, and wondering whether a tough old woman who had never
had the measles could escape the contagion of typhoid fever,
Mrs. Pratt had a small faded cottage all to herself, the substantial
token of the late John Pratt's esteem, before he left for his long
journey to the better land; and though the locality was a poor one, and
the neighbors noisy and rough, this particular dwelling impressed one
strongly with in idea of the "shabby genteel" in all its painful
gentility, and also filled the heart with a ready sympathy for the "old
decency" that yet survived within those paintless, sunburnt shutters,
and those faded, pitted walls.
But inside this uncomfortable appearance of washed-out brick and
well-ripened wood, there was comfort and cleanliness and quiet. The
front room, with its stiff cane rocker and chairs, its round table and
well-adorned mantelpiece, its cretonne-covered lounge and tapestry
carpet, was not a bad sample at all, of a drawing-room in a third-rate
Upstairs, on the first and highest story, were three small, but
scrupulously neat rooms, two of which looked out into the street, and
the other into the common yard of some dozen neighbors. In the largest
apartment of all, which was the aristocratic bedroom, was a narrow, iron
bedstead, a little square, antique bureau, an open wash-stand, with a
prim white basin set into a hole in it to fit, and a clean diaper towel,
folded respectably across the pitcher that did not match the bowl. The
boards, though bare, were yellow as gold. The faded shutters were
closed, and failing hooks were fastened to a nail in the shabby sill by
a piece of aged pink tape. On a small table by the bed-side, were
bottles and tumblers and remnants of rough delicacies, that bespoke
The loud, heavy breathing of an invalid, was all that disturbed the
quiet of Mrs. Pratt's best room, and this came irregularly, but
oppressed and labored, from the prostrate form on the little iron bed
behind the door.
Over the spotless linen of the warm bed, two hot, washed hands were
lying, and buried in the small, soft pillows, was the flashed, feverish
face of a young man. His brow was contracted and every feature bore the
impress of the foul disease that had made him its victim. The dry,
parched lips moved eagerly at intervals, and the thin fingers clutched
one another in feverish excitement; the drowsy lids were only half
closed, and great drops of perspiration were standing out on the poor
Care and intense anxiety were legibly traced on the well carved
features. The mouth was drawn in at its corners, the brow was furrowed
by deep lines, and the black hair was well sprinkled with the grey dust
of a hard and a bitter experience acquired on the road of life's
This sad, silent young man was well known in the neighborhood as "Mrs.
Pratt's boarder," and when, after defying a serious indisposition for
days, he came home one night to his little room, a helpless victim to
its ravages, everyone said they were truly sorry, and counselled Mrs.
Pratt to treat him "decent." Here he lay through long, sleepy, sultry
days, dozing and raving, and tossing in the madness and delirium of
fever, and suffering terribly, through endless nights of suffocation and
Poor Mrs. Pratt had done her best, nobly and well, she had called in the
doctor of best repute, and had advanced the "coppers" herself, such
trust had she placed in the young fellow, wherewith to provide him with
the necessary remedies and delicacies. When he was "real" bad she sat up
herself to watch, and invited the widow Brady or some other interesting
neighbor to keep her company.
Dr. Belford was a man of unrivalled skill in his profession, and to say
the best of him was a true friend to the needy and the poor. No hour of
the night was too late for him to answer their pleading cry, and hence
it was that he became the very idol of the destitute of a great city.
He had come into Chapel Alley, at Mrs. Pratt's anxious request, and had
pronounced her lodger, to be in the height of "typhoid fever." The case
was even more dangerous than he cared to pretend, and the circumstances
that had driven a respectable young fellow, such as his patient looked,
to seek lodgings in a dilapidated quarter like Chapel Alley were such as
engaged his sympathies at once.
The days were stretching into weeks, and still the poor suffering
victim, raved and tossed in mad fever on his narrow bed. Dr. Belford was
looking serious as he left the sickroom one afternoon, after watching
his patient attentively for nearly an hour: he cautioned Mrs. Pratt, in
an earnest voice to attend carefully to the invalid, impressing on her
how serious a crisis was approaching.
He left the house a little troubled, telling Mrs. Pratt to leave her
door unlocked, for he intended to return as often as possible through
the night, to the bed-side of the patient.
Noiselessly, almost breathlessly, the good woman stole around her little
house in stocking feet, as she journeyed with fresh or re-made
delicacies and medicines from the little kitchen below to the close
She was faithful in moistening the parched lips, and in administering
the remedies, with an edifying punctuality, and in fact, all the major
and minor duties of a nurse were admirably attended to, by the
whole-souled creature, who had taken this heavy responsibility upon
It was close on ten o'clock of the night of this critical day on which
Dr. Belford had left Mrs. Pratt's house with such a troubled look, and
this charitable matron having completed all her arrangements for the
night, deposited a small lamp with a heavy green shade of paper, on the
bureau in the sick-room, and drawing a tall straight wooden rocker close
to the window, settled herself, stocking and needles in hand to "knit
out" the hours of her lonesome vigil.
* * * * *
On the heavily carved door of a square house on one of the most stylish
avenues of New York City, was a silver plate, bearing the familiar name
of "Dr. Belford." There was magnificence on all sides of this, his
splendid home, and yet this good man spent all his days, and most of his
nights in the squalid and repulsive quarters of the great city. He was a
man of untold wealth and cared but little, whether his profession
yielded him additional wealth or not, he had understood the great
misfortunes of life, and had toiled with an iron will, to benefit those
to whom an unfortunate fate had taught the bitter lessons of poverty and
The mansion which bore his name on its elegant door, was now a blaze of
gas-light; the heavy curtains, shaded the grandeur of the spacious
drawing-room, but the apartment opposite had its tall windows thrown
open to the evening breeze. This was Dr. Belford's office, splendidly
furnished, and comfortably situated, countless rows of ponderous volumes
lined the walls, and over the rest of the spacious room were scattered
heavy pieces of office furniture, that lay around in solemn imposing
Standing before a succession of bound volumes was a young man, with his
hands folded behind his back and his head raised enquiringly to the
books above him, he was passing over their titles in a quick review, and
had just laid his hand in evident gratification on one of them, when a
long shrill, silvery tinkle, made him start: "No use, I suppose," he
muttered to himself, "I must be on the 'go.'"
A tall, thin man, like an icicle in livery, appeared in the doorway at
this moment, and delivered a note into his expectant hand. The young
fellow tore it open and read.
MY DEAR BOY,--
The case I have been summoned to attend here is a
matter of life or death, I cannot possibly leave the house before
morning. Will you, therefore, attend to the "typhoid fever" case, I
spoke to you of, in Chapel Alley, for to-night, and oblige,
J. D. BELFORD.
"Humph!" said he, as he finished the last words, "I need to smarten up a
little, it is now after ten: something serious must be up," he
soliloquized, "or Doctor would never neglect that 'fever' patient, he is
so interested in."
Slipping his feet, clad in their red silk hose, from the daintiest of
velvet slippers, the young doctor drew on his fine walking-shoes, turned
down the gas a little, closed the office window, and taking his hat from
the rack behind the door, hurried out.
In a moment, the carriage was around, and stepping in he ordered Barnes
to drive him quickly to Mrs. Pratt's humble abode in Chapel Alley.
The dark, close by-ways and lanes impressed the young doctor forcibly,
after leaving the broad, paved thoroughfares flooded with electric
light, and used, though he was, to those sights, the repetition caused
him invariably to shrink within himself and close his eyes upon their
At length they drew in towards the solitary house; from whose small
upper window came the faint glimmer, cast through the slits in the
shutter, by the dim light of the lonely watcher.
As the young doctor stood at the door, he could hear the loud talk and
wild cries of the invalid above, he laid his hand on the shabby handle,
when yielding to his touch, the door opened with a little creaking
noise--Mrs. Pratt, leaning over the rickety balustrade above, whispered:
"Come straight up, doctor, he's awful bad!"
The lively young doctor took all of Mrs. Prate's stairway in two
moderate leaps and was at her side instantly. A moment of explanation
consoled the troubled looking woman for the appearance of a stranger in
Dr. Belford's stead, and then on tip toe they turned into the sick room.
"He's been a fright altogether doctor," said Mrs. Pratt, raising her
withered hands in an attitude of wonder "sich ravin' an' shoutin' and
kerryings on I never see before--and I thought you'd ha' never come."
When the door of the sick-room was opened an expression of extreme pity
crossed the young man's face: that anyone should burn with a merciless
fever in the close confines of this narrow little space, touched him
deeply. He turned and looked at the restless invalid, but the light of
the small hand lamp was dim and he could not see very distinctly.
"Hold the lamp nearer, my good woman," he said in the most earnest
professional manner, and as obedient Mrs. Pratt raised it high above her
frilled cap, the doctor turned his eager glance on the prostrate figure
The light now fell upon the flushed features of the sick man. His
agitation had all ceased, and there lingered but a little expression of
peevishness and anxiety, but his whole condition bespoke sickness and
A change, sudden and wonderful, flashed over the stern features of the
doctor, he staggered just a step, and then bent lower over the face of
the invalid--there--within the close narrow limits of a poor sick-room,
in a squalid locality, one stricken down by a loathsome disease, the
other there to alleviate his pain, did two fellow students meet for the
first time since the long years ago when they had crossed the threshold
of their school-room as boyish "chums" each to take his road in the
great thoroughfare of life--yes--there was no mistaking it--those were
the well remembered features of Nicholas Bencroft and no other. The
doctor was lost in reflections when Mrs. Pratt impatiently interrupted
"Well doctor--he ain't much worse, I hope?"
"He is no better," the doctor answered seriously, "he is at the crisis
of his disease now. I will wait and watch with you to-night," he added,
"go down like a good woman and tell my driver he can leave, I will watch
Mrs. Pratt was a very scrupulous woman, for a widow, and thought it
quite hazardous enough to watch a sick man all alone, besides
encumbering her mind with one that was very alive and well--and so she
took upon herself to insinuate something of her alarm to the young
doctor. But a little persuasion went a long way with susceptible Mrs.
Pratt, and when the doctor had told her that he recognized an old friend
in her sick lodger, she begged a thousand pardons and became very
While they watched by the bed-side of the unfortunate man, Mrs. Pratt
grew communicative, and told the doctor how this sad young man came to
her one hot Saturday evening and asked her for lodgings--how she had
thought him "sort o' nice" and "took to him" and had had him now for
near a twelve-month--that he had paid "reglar" and gave no trouble until
the night the fever "struck him down"--his name was Bencroft, she knew,
and his linen was well marked with a N. an' a B. in "real good
writin"--and finally, how she hoped he'd soon get better, for his own
sake and other peoples, "so she did."
When they looked at the sleeper again, he was peaceful and unoppressed,
his breathing was feebler and less labored, and while they stood
whispering at the foot of his bed, he gave a great sigh and opened his
heavy lids languidly.
The doctor hastened to his side: the wild delirium had passed away,
leaving the worried face of the sufferer calmer and quieter, he opened
up his large lustrous eyes and said in a plaintive tone.--
Mrs. Pratt raised the glass to his parched lips, and clutching her hands
in his own feverish grasp, he pressed the goblet to his mouth and drank
a devouring draught.
It was true that his wanderings and delirium had ceased. Mrs. Pratt
looked meaningly at the doctor and whispered hopefully: "he is better?"
but, professional-like, the doctor remained silent, and only looked very
seriously on. The invalid dropped back again among his pillows, and fell
into a deep sleep.
The night was now well nigh spent: outside in the leaden dawn, an odd,
faint, sleepy twitter disturbed the silence, and an odd pedestrian's
footsteps echoed, through the still street.
When this natural sleep stole over the weak and wornout invalid, the
doctor bade Mrs. Pratt a "good morning" for a while, telling her she
might expect him back in four or five hour's time.
"If your patient should wake," he added, "question him a little to
ascertain whether he is entirely free from the illusions of his delirium
or not--" and then with a puzzled wondering look upon his handsome face,
the young doctor passed out of Mrs. Pratt's close, shabby house into the
Thoughts and memories of the past, he had stowed so resignedly away,
flooded his mind as he strode onward, he had dreamed until last night
that the ghost of his by-gone days would haunt him no more, and when he
had learned to live without his memories on the associations of the
frequent past, he was brought forward again to meet, face to face, a
forcible reminder of his yesterdays. "Poor Nicholas!" he soliloquized,
"what can have befallen him, that this should be his end? I thought
there was nothing left in life that could surprise me, and yet here is
something that really does."
The days and scenes of his college life passed in a sorrowful panorama
before the misty eyes of the young man as he strode along the silent
street in the gray of the early morning, and as the beginning and the
close of this happy period were reviewed before him, they passed into
another phase of his life and clouded the frank young, face with a
shadow of regret and pain--"at least"--he muttered to himself--"I might
have spared myself this, after I had taught myself that it was madness
to remember and wisdom to forget."
A trio of midnight revelers, deserting their haunt of debauchery on a
dilapidated street corner, here interrupted the strain of his
meditation, and as he raised his eyes to look upon the ragged figures,
and bloated, forbidden countenances of these men, there passed over his
pensive features, a look of contentment and resignation which said--"At
least, if my life has been a bitter and an unfortunate one, I have been
spared these rags and this degradation. And yet," he continued, as he
walked rapidly along the by-ways and thoroughfares of the great city,
"it is a wonder that I escaped it, for in my time we were just as
degraded, only we disguised our hideousness under the garb of
respectability." Then a look of bitter, almost hopeless disappointment
came over his face, as he told himself secretly, "And I struggled
against all these propensities, fought with and overcame all these
follies for the sake of _her_, who has cast me so easily, so willingly
out of her life." He was turning the broad paved corner that led to Dr
Belford's house, and quickening his step he reached the door just as the
old doctor himself was passing out into the hall.
"Hallo!" said the old gentleman in genuine surprise, "where have you
been carousing until such an hour?"
There was evidently a familiarity between these two that spoke of strong
regard on the part of the younger, and of a fatherly fondness and
interest in that of the elder doctor. An explanation followed which
gratified Dr. Belford immensely.
"Since the danger looks less, my boy," he said, "and that you wish to
attend him, I see no reason why you shouldn't. I've trusted you with as
serious cases already."
With this they parted, each tired and weary with his midnight vigils,
repaired to rest until the full stir of the morning that was just
"I have a bitter thought--a snake
That used to string my life to pain;
I strove to cast it far away,
But every night and every day
It crawled back to my heart again."
"You are unusually early this morning," said a pale, handsome woman
crossing the threshold of the elegant dining-room, where the silver and
crystal and tempting viands stood in inviting array on the massive
The lady wore a loose dark wrapper, girdled at the waist, and her thick
hair, prematurely grey, was drawn back from her large, intelligent brow,
and secured in graceful coils at the back of her shapely neck.
"I have a case of unusual interest, dear Mrs. Belford--that explains it;
at least I have stolen one from Dr. Belford, and with his ordinary
kindness, he does not insist on reclaiming it."
"Well, I don't object," Mrs. Belford replied gayly, "only I hope you can
manage to get through quickly, for I have an engagement for you early
this afternoon, and I would not relish a disappointment in the least."
The young doctor looked proudly at the handsome woman as she spoke, then
drawing himself up to his full height, as he surveyed himself in the
mirror, "You may rely on me," he said with his most courteous bow, as he
took his hat and left the room, with a last "good morning" to Mrs.
* * * * *
"Deary me, but I'm glad you're well again," said good Mrs. Pratt, as she
leaned over the now restored patient. "I thought ye were a goner sure,
till comin' on mornin'. An' how do ye feel now, there's a good boy?"
The pained look on the sufferer's face passed into something of a smile,
as he answered in a low, weak voice,
"Much better, I thank you," then the old, troubled shade returned to his
flushed features, as he asked anxiously, "Will the doctor come soon
again? I want him particularly this time."
The pleading words were scarcely uttered when the rickety door creaked
once more on its hinges. The stairs were taken in a jump, and the doctor
stood at the door of his patient's room.
Mrs Pratt thrust out her anxious head, and whispered,
"He's alright, an' wants ye very bad this very minnit."
Laying his hat and cane on the "ottoman," (an old soap box costumed in
faded chinz), the doctor entered the room and approached the bed of the
Taking advantage of the occasion, Mrs. Pratt now fairly "tired out,"
escorted herself to the adjoining room and laid her weary bones on the
uninviting "settee," that was the hallowed source of all the pleasant
dreams, that haunted her daily siestas for many a year.
The bright vivid glare of the mid-summer sun, was condensed into a
subdued light, as it stole through the little scorched shutters, that
adorned Mrs. Pratt's front windows. The doctor drew an old-fashioned
chair, close to the bed side and addressed his patient cheerily:
"Well, you are much better, this morning, I think?"
The restless head turned with a quick movement towards the speaker. The
bright feverishly lustrous eyes dwelt in dilated wonder on the face
before them, there was a nervous twitching about the dry lips. Then the
tired eyes closed languidly and the plaintive voice said:
"My mind is wandering; I am not a school-boy now."
The doctor knew there was a recognition, and taking the burning hand in
his, he said tenderly:
"Yes, Nicholas Bencroft, we will be school-boys again if you like. Those
were happy days; let us go over them together once more."
A strange, sad expression flitted across the invalid's face. He turned
completely round and peered into the face of his companion. Then
stretching out both feverish white hands, he cried out:
"Yes, thank God! Elersley, it's you; you have come just in time."
"Open the window and let me have a breath of fresh air," said the sick
man after their greetings were over. "I have something to tell you that
is weighing me down with grief, and promise me, dear old fellow, that
you will leave no stone unturned to do the right things, that I will
point out to you presently."
"If it is in human power, Bencroft, how can you doubt the eagerness of
one old chum to serve another?"
"But I have done an awful wrong and you may loathe me and desert me when
you see me self-condemned."
The despairing tones of the weak voice touched every sympathetic chord
in the heart of his listener.
"I don't care what you may have done," he cried, enthusiastically, "let
me help you all I can, you will not ask an impossibility I know."
The invalid heaved a labored sigh, and began his story.
"If I knew I had yet a year of health and life before me, I would not
trouble any one to undo the black and dishonorable knot, that these
guilty hands have tied, but I know too well that but little strength is
left me. To begin at the beginning, Guy," he said, looking eagerly into
the kind face of his listener, "boys make foolish attachments at school,
that they sometimes regret all their lives. This, as you know, was my
misfortune. Whatever diabolical attraction there was in that one man for
me, I never could tell. All you fellows ridiculed me for it, but some
evil fascination, though I did not so qualify it at that time, held me
to him in spite of myself. The rest of you, wiser than I, learned to
look upon his handsome face and polished manners as a clever mask, but I
was blinded and could not see like the rest. You know how many foolish
acts I did during those college years to serve him. Oh! if I had only
known then that I was laying the foundation of my future misery with my
own willing hands," and the speaker's large eyes flashed with a hatred
and defiance that made his plain face look grand and handsome.
"I left school a year before my father died, and I had just become
initiated in his business at the time of his demise. I admit it was
rather a heavy undertaking for one so young as I was then, to continue
the extensive business my father had so successfully carried on for
"But I was encouraged by hopeful relatives and did not myself dread any
untoward consequences. Things went on quite smoothly, and I was making
money fast, when one day I was nearly stunned to death, on seeing my old
college chum walk in the office door. He looked handsomer than ever and
greeted me very cordially, with just a touch of the old condescension in
his manner. I was, of course, delighted to see him. We talked over old
days freely and familiarly. Finally I saw the drift of his visit. He
represented to me that he had invested largely, at the advice of some
friends, in the lands of the great North-West, but had lost a great deal
by the speculation. In his despair, the first friend he thought of was
myself. He got around me in his old way, and before he left my office
that morning I had loaned him, madman that I was, the sum of five
thousand dollars, without any question whatever of security. He swore to
me that I might rely on him to deal honestly with me, and, blinded by
the old infatuation, I gave him a cheque for the amount and sent him
away contented. Give me a drink, Guy, and fix up my pillows, please."
The young doctor did these things as gently as a woman, and without
interrupting the strain of confidence, sat down patiently again and
resumed his listening attitude.
"Months glided by," continued the invalid, "and no one was any the wiser
of the rash act I had committed, but now that I had leisure to repent,
it worried me greatly, and I could not shake off the depression it
caused. The time was approaching when a heavy payment would fall due and
I was in daily agony, waiting for the remittance of my loan, but,
needless to say, it never came. I wrote to the address he had left me,
but no answer was forthcoming.
"Within a few days of the date on which I had to meet this heavy
payment, the load of anxiety that pressed upon me was suddenly lightened
by the sudden re-appearance of my friend in my office. His smiles
succeeded in reassuring me once more, and in breathless suspense, I
drank in every word he uttered. He spoke of a great many unnecessary
things first, and then concluded by saying in the coolest manner
"'I fear you will be a little disappointed about your money, but I will
not be able to pay you for some time yet.'
"I stood petrified at his audacity. My first impulse was to seize him by
the throat and pay myself in blood, but when I looked at his handsome
face my determination vanished. He looked curiously at me in return, and
asked in a tone like one who is feeling his way:
"'Are you safe in your business?'
"'Good God!' I cried, exasperated, 'I was until I saw your face. You
will be my ruin.'
"He seemed to look sorry all at once, then brightening a little he said:
"'There is only one way in which I can help you, but you must lend a
"'What is it?' I cried, eagerly, hopefully.
"'I am going to be married,' he answered gravely, 'to a wealthy heiress,
and as soon as her money is in my possession, I will pay you back your
"There was nothing repulsive to me in this prospect. I was awake only to
the vital interests of the welfare of my mother and family, that
depended on my faithful discharge of the duties of my responsible
"Seizing him eagerly by the arm, I asked him, 'When will she marry you?'
"'There's the rub,' he answered perplexedly. 'When do you want the
"'I must choose between my money and absolute ruin on Thursday,' I said,
'and this is Tuesday; I leave the rest to your honor and your heart.'
"'Well, the case is this,' he said, looking at me fixedly, 'she will not
marry me in her own town; we will therefore take a trip elsewhere, but
the difficulty is, I don't know yet where to go. If, however'--and he
leaned on the railing of my desk and looked at me with a searching
glance,--'if you want your money badly you can have it in this way:
There is a small vacant house, distant some miles from her residence,
and thither we could drive at any time. Why could'nt you, robed as a
curate, perform the marriage ceremony, and secure your money? We could