Part 6 out of 7
passages, almost irritated him. He was soon distracted from these trying
observations, however, by the entrance of a dignified haughty-looking
woman of about forty years; she was attired in the same simple costume
which he had just admired on the young girl in the garden, except that
her hair, sprinkled here and there with silver threads, was tucked
neatly under an old-fashioned head-dress of muslin that strangely became
her handsome face. Still standing a little inside the door-way, this
cold, reserved woman looked enquiringly, and waited for Guy to speak his
errand, whatever it might be.
"I have intruded here," Guy began with not too much confidence in his
colloquial powers, "to enquire for a young girl named Josephine de
Maistre, who, I am told was admitted here some time ago. I do not know
the young lady personally," Guy frankly avowed, "nor have I ever spoken
to her; but I have been entrusted with a very serious duty to discharge
relative to her, and if it be not encroaching on your rules, I would be
glad to interview the young lady."
An answer came in cold words, from an unmoved face:
"It is not our custom," the stately woman began, "to admit young male
visitors to our home without urgent cause for so doing. Show me that you
are justified in seeking a deviation from our custom, and I will grant
Guy fidgeted with his watch chain, and with a little hesitation which
shewed how much he dreaded any indiscretion on his part, he asked,
"Are you acquainted with any details of Miss de Maistre's life before
her coming here?"
With the same placid face, his companion answered,
"I know everything--she has had no secret from me."
"Then I am safe in broaching the subject to you," Guy answered more
freely, and accordingly, in as brief terms as possible, he confided his
mission to this haughty woman, leaving her then to judge for herself
whether the responsibility bequeathed him by dying lips justified or not
his intrusion within this quiet home. When he had finished, the set brow
of his listener relaxed a little, into an almost involuntary expression
"You may see her presently," said the stern lady, "I am glad you have
come so soon. It was very hard to persuade her at first that God's
retribution would come time enough, she was so eager to avenge her
wrongs with her own hand, but now that she has fully conquered her
sinful desire for vengeance, God thinks fit to act. I will send her to
you directly," and with these words she swept noiselessly out through
the shadowy doorway, leaving Guy tangled up in the strangest sensations.
There was a moment of suspense before the dignified woman re-appeared,
leading the beautiful heroine of his vision in the grounds into Guy's
presence. There was a melancholy beauty in that face, whose memory never
after ceased to haunt his heart. Something so appealingly sorrowful, and
yet so coldly sad, that one pitied and admired and loved in the one
glance. The long, dark lashes that fringed the white lids, and rested
languidly on the pallid cheeks, every now and then shaded the deepest,
dreamiest and most mournful eyes Guy had ever seen, and the subdued
passion and smothered emotion that the keen glance might detect
trembling on her full, red lips, was grander to Guy than anything else
human he could conceive. Then the large, creeping waves of the dry, dark
hair that encircled her intelligent brow, and nestled around her
well-formed ears to her shapely neck behind, capped the climax of Guy's
The childish simplicity with which she stood before him coupled so
strangely with a mien of reserve and independence, put Guy greatly at a
loss to know how he was to take this strange creature. There was no
conceit, no vanity, no empty pride accompanying all that dazzling
beauty. Guy allowed that at one time this face must have worn becomingly
the expression of coquetry--may be there was once a pleasure in showing
this face to its best advantage, with the assistance of studied apparel,
but now! all that was a buried past. There was now a look of wild,
natural beauty that had not been fettered by rules of fashion or style;
no attempt at effect in the plain, simple costume that clung so
becomingly to her _svelte_ figure. No artful use was made of those
perfect features; she looked like a child-woman--so sweet, so innocent,
so simple, and yet so grand, so sad, so serious.
Guy stretched forth his hand in a friendly way, as she entered, saying,
"We are strangers in one way, Mademoiselle de Maistre, but in a thousand
ways we are very good friends, at least, such is my disposition towards
She placed her small, tender hand in his, and scanned his face a little
The majestic lady "directress" encircling the girl in her arms, said
"I will leave you with this gentleman; trust him, my dear, he is your
friend," and then she very considerately left the room.
Guy, on finding himself alone with the object of his search, entered
into business immediately.
His voice was touchingly respectful and sympathetic as he addressed
"I hope," he began, "that you will not object to my recalling certain
events of your past life, mademoiselle. I have been commissioned to bear
you a message, relative to a detail of your unusually sad experience,
but I would first like to know that it does not pain you too much to
hear your past repeated."
"Oh, sir!" she said, clasping her hands and looking devoutly up, "don't
spare me on that account. When we have been able to do wrong, we should
be able to bear the consequences, whatever they be. Besides, my past has
never been a past to me--all is as vivid to-day as it was in the first
hours of my experience. I have only memory left me from that frightful
"Then we may as well proceed to the point immediately," added Guy, who
was feeling slightly uncomfortable over the task.
"I am a doctor by profession, mademoiselle, and have, for the last few
years, been practising in the city of New York. Some months ago I was
summoned to the bed-side of a man in typhoid fever, in whom I recognized
an old school friend. He was evidently delighted at the freak of good
fortune that brought us together, for, as he told me, there was a secret
gnawing at his heart, that he longed to disclose. I sat down beside him
and heard, mademoiselle, from his fevered lips, the shameful account of
a wedding ceremony, of which you were such an unfortunate victim."
Fifine was clutching her fingers convulsively, and there was a look of
suppression in her sad face that touched Guy, he was, however, anxious
to get through with his disagreeable tale, and hurried on.
"He bade me seek you out, mademoiselle, only to tell you that since that
eventful night, he has wandered through life, dogged and shadowed by a
cruel remorse, which ultimately laid him on the bed where I found him.
One thing he craved with his dying lips, mademoiselle, that the message
be borne you from him, of your freedom; that you be told how that
ceremony was a mockery, null and void, and after this disclosure, if
pardon were possible, that you might try to forgive him his blind share
in the disgraceful deed. The person I allude to, mademoiselle, was the
pretended clergyman who married you that night." He looked now into the
struggling face beside him, he knew the conflict that was raging in that
soul. The trembling lips parted while he watched, and he heard the low
murmur of a sanctified soul, as it breathed. "As we forgive them that
trespass against us," she answered back the look of anxious enquiry he
cast upon her face for a moment, and then cried:
"Do you say I am free? Not bound to anyone? Untrammelled all this time
that I have lived in imaginary slavery, oh, how much I have suf--" but
she checked the impulse that bade her murmur, and said instead, "because
I have done wrong myself, I can forgive. _I_ know how the guilty heart
craves for pardon, how the loaded conscience aches for relief, and
therefore, you can take my entire forgiveness back to the penitent who
asks it. After all," she continued, in a sort of soliloquy, "forgiveness
_is_ easier than revenge."
"You are a noble little soul," said Guy, touched by the piety and fervor
of this blighted little heart.
"Ah, sir! it is not that," Fifine said regretfully, "I might have been
that, if I had lived contentedly among the comforts, where God had so
generously placed me, and not sighed to adopt a world of sin and shame,
rather than sacrifice it. I can never be that now. I have killed my poor
loving father: I have blighted my life--there is only penance and
atonement now to bid me hope," then passing her hand wearily over her
eyes, she exclaimed in a long sigh, "So strange, all this! I thought
that ugly chapter was over and done with, for everyone but me. And this
man that sent you, who is he?" queried she.
In words as brief and clear as possible, Guy told her the story of his
night by Nicholas Bencroft's bed-side, dwelling emphatically upon the
pitiful effects that remorse and reverses had left, where innocence and
prosperity had once been. The girl's face clouded at intervals, as she
listened to the strange, touching recital, and she felt a sympathy in
the end, for this other poor victim, who, like herself, had been led
into evil, blindfolded.
After a long, long interval, Guy rose to depart, not however, without
having made every arrangement with Fifine that was necessary to render
her justice, and give Vivian Standish his due. Even towards this latter,
she would not now indulge feelings of her old hatred. She asked that he
be dealt with as leniently as possible, "for, sir," she argued, "the
wicked are wicked only because of their weakness. They are _so_ much
weaker than the good; and just as the man of physical strength is
merciful with one who is physically weak, so should the rule apply to
moral strength, and let him who can brave temptation deal gently with
the poor, weak sinner." And then they parted to the time, Fifine having
agreed to seek permission to enable her to take any active steps that
should be deemed necessary for the rendering of calm, quiet justice to
Vivian Standish's victims.
When Peace and Mercy, banish'd from the plain,
Sprung on the viewless winds to heaven again
All, all forsook the friendless, guilty mind,
But Hope the charmer, hunger'd still behind.
The gold and amber leaves, turned their withered edges inward, and fell,
in sear, crisp decay, from the half-naked trees. The flowers were all
dead. The songs of the summer birds were entirely hushed, and thus
stripped of all its rustic beauty, Ottawa stood, in mid-autumn, awaiting
the pleasure of winter.
It was the season, which of all others, appealed most eloquently to
Honor Edgeworth's heart, to her, the season of "falling leaves" and
"moaning winds," was nature's most sympathetic response, gratifying, as
it did, the melancholy tendency in her nature.
The dear, dead summer, had fled into that vast eternity. Little,
trifling experiences, that at one time meant almost nothing, looked
precious and eloquent, now that her eyes viewed them, with that backward
glance, which one casts so sorrowfully on the things that are receding
from them forever. Little words she had heard, little kindnesses she had
felt, little songs she had sung, aye, and even little tears she had
shed! all were wafted back for one delightful moment of sweet regret.
She stood by the window again, as she did a year ago, two and three
years ago, as she would, likely, in years to come, sunk in a reverie,
watching the leaves fall, as they fell a twelve-month since; the leaves
were just the same, the sky seemed still unchanged, the wind chanted the
same weird, lonely lamentation, only _she_ was different, something had
come into her life in that interval of years, and had gone out of it
again, leaving it so desolate, so aimless, so blank! She had had a good
draught from the cup of life, since that other autumn evening, when she
stood at this very window, moralising on the transient nature of all
mortal things. She had drunk deeply enough to know, that for souls like
hers, happiness, is scattered among briars and thorns; she was a wiser,
a sadder, perhaps even a better girl, this autumn day, but she was not
happier, oh no!
In a slow, solemn procession, the items of her years' experience, passed
before her eyes, between the dead leaves and the closed window pane, she
saw a panorama of memory. She was looking back with a sorrowful
gratification upon the work of a couple of twelve-months, sighing now
and then, smiling now and then, but never very happy over the suggestive
Altogether, Honor Edgeworth, had nothing of the superficialities, which
characterize the majority of Ottawa young ladies, who have the "splendid
advantages," and "glorious times" that she enjoyed. One was easily
convinced, on knowing her, that riches and light pleasures, such as
delight the average society girl, could not constitute her happiness,
she shared these things out of a sense of duty, because it was customary
for girls in her position to do so, but principally because Mr. Rayne
had expressed a wish to that effect. She had been, and not unknowingly,
the subject of sublime envy for a whole season in Ottawa, and had
created no little _furore_ in a succession of stylish watering-places
during the summer spell, and yet, here she was, after all that, in the
face of another winter of gaiety and excitement, with the same cold
indifference in her heart, and the same reserve and dignity in her
Henry Rayne, was fast declining in health. The exertions of an active
life were beginning to tell seriously on him, his heart troubled him,
and his head troubled him, and Honor's future troubled him more than
either. He continually worried and thought over the time, when he would
not be nigh to protect her, or guide her: her welfare was about the only
mental problem he tried to solve, as he sat through the long hours of
the day wrapped up in a cushioned _fauteuil_.
Vivian Standish, still flickered around the flame awaiting his doom;
there was hope for him, while Henry Rayne regarded him, in the favorable
light he did. His past career, seemed to have become a blank to him now,
he could not understand how retribution had not caught up to him in the
race, and so dropped trying to: he did not fear Bencroft, for his share
of the guilt was about equal, but the magnanimity, or idiocy, of the
"little one" if she had survived, he thought to be very convenient; of
course, if through his instrumentality, she had passed into a fairer and
a better land, why so much the better for all parties concerned. He had
held himself on the "look out" for months after his vile commission,
ready, for the first insinuation of his guilt, that went abroad, but now
that the period had lengthened into years, and he had pretty nearly
exhausted the wages of his deed, he felt a sort of protection, and
blotted out all uncomfortable reminiscenses from his memory. He had laid
himself out, now, to play another little game, but this game, in its
_denouement_ had surprised him more than he expected.
Being a conceited fellow, he did not relish indifference, much less,
marked coldness, nearly so well, as the pronounced admiration, with
which he was wont to be received, but with all his attractions and
efforts, he could only extract the most rigid politeness from Honor
Edgeworth. "Bad beginning," he thought, as he tugged his long
moustaches, and smiled superciliously with his handsome lips and dreamy
eyes. Vivian Standish, for so many years, by profession a deceiver, had
at length, made a false step which compromised himself seriously, as
quietly and neatly, and securely as he had ever entrapped any victim, he
was now entrapping himself in his own very meshes. Very coldly and
mechanically indeed, he had planned his courtship with Honor Edgeworth,
a thing, in his intentions to be a pure calculating process, a
speculation, and now unknown to himself, almost unfelt by himself, his
low ambition had led him into a snare; he began to grow uncomfortable
under the calm, steady gaze of this dignified girl, he measured his
words, and restricted himself generally, which in itself, was the
strangest possible thing for him to do. He began to feel, that to lose
her now, would make something more than a pecuniary difference to him,
he had transferred the object of his craving from her dowry to herself,
and to feel that he really wanted something which in any way could add
to his material comfort, was, in itself the most powerful stimulus, that
Vivian Standish had ever known. The fact that he worked out his own
gratification sustained him through many a discouragement; may be it
will cause no one to wonder either, for when one has gone through fire
and water for someone else, one's heart clings almost involuntarily to
him ever after, one's interest never dies out where his welfare is at
It had been thus, with Vivian Standish, but the object of his daring
deeds had been his own other self; that never satisfied nature of
humanity, which, continually cries for more, that unreasonable element
of our existence, that is not content, when we have dipped our trembling
hands in the sluggish, sullied waters of sin and shame, to gather the
little bright deceptive flower they craved to hold, something that looks
so tempting and precious on the dangerous water's edge, but which when
gathered becomes offensive, and is cast so recklessly aside. How many of
us there are, that sit in moody silence, grieving and wondering over our
own ingratitude to ourselves; peevishly grumbling at our moral poverty,
scanning with pitying disgust the persistent weakness of our natures,
sighing with a hopeless resignation over a miserable destiny of broken
resolutions and vain attempts, and wondering when it will all end, and
relieve our burdened souls.
Vivian Standish, had become a moral wreck, more by accident than by
nature. Phrenologists would scarcely have defined his handsome features
as indicative of wickedness in the soul, but the victim of a mistaken
vocation, has always been known to carry his propensities to the very
worst limit; ending generally when all hope is vain, and amendment an
impossibility. Sometimes one does hear of the evil-doer being overtaken
in his dark course by the voice of conscience; a warning whisper, from
some spirit-like voice, has occasionally stayed the hand of the
murderer, the self-destroyer, the robber, or the drunkard; but I fear,
it is a more familiar thing, to every one of us, to know, that when a
man has once determinedly begun his downward course, it is rarely, he
stops at the precipice; if he has risked great things on one occasion,
he will hazard greater dangers on many occasions, never waiting, never
halting, to think or to regret until he reach the final hazard which is
life itself, consequently death itself, and then the awful sequel which
is hushed, or whispered in a trembling breath, like a horrible ghost
story, the consequences of eternal darkness, and agony, and despair.
* * * * *
The winter set in at Ottawa, the cold north-east winds blew over the
bare streets and through the naked trees for days and weeks, and then,
the soft, white, noiseless snowflakes stole over the desolate city,
making it suddenly as bright and lively and cheerful, as it had been
dreary and melancholy before.
December, with snow and cold, and icicles and sleighbells, substituted
the lovely "fall," and turned the wearisome scenes of summer remnants,
into the gay, sparkling picture of lively winter.
It was December, and Honor Edgeworth's lover had not proposed yet. Henry
Rayne had still serious misgivings relative to Honor's real sentiments,
which prevented him from encouraging Standish to take the final step.
All through the summer and autumn months, Honor and he had been thrown a
great deal together, he had given up his occupations elsewhere, and was
now permanently established at Ottawa; in the mornings, when Honor drove
or walked up town, to do her shopping, she often met him, either
lunching at the confectioners, or coming out of the Post Office, or
standing aimlessly at the Russell House entrance: invariably, he joined
her, carrying all her small parcels, if she walked, or helping her in
and out of her tiny phaeton if she drove. Every eye, any way trained in
matrimonial calculations had given its knowing wink, at these two, which
translated from eye-language means, "they're going it," or "that's a
match:" other girls who did their shopping all by themselves, sighed
wearily at "some people's luck," and turned their heads purposely aside,
to admire some grand display of millinery, or jewellery, or whatever
distraction was at hand.
In the evenings, Love's "at home" hour, these two were always together,
and if it was not to escort her to some place of entertainment, Vivian
whiled the delicious hours away strolling leisurely around the grounds
of Mr. Rayne's house by Honor's side--thrown sleepily on some rustic
bench beside her, with his well-flavored cigar between his handsome
lips, and the dreamiest sort of love looks floating between his
half-closed, deeply-fringed lids, muttering half audibly those thrilling
little nothings that seem so consistent with pretty ears, and a
half-averted, blushing face in the autumn twilight. When the evenings
grew too chilly, even with a provokingly becoming wrap and tiny skull
cap, perched on the back of her head, Honor and her devoted admirer
spent their time within doors, playing, singing, or chatting
suspiciously with their feet on the fender. Honor had never thought it
necessary to question the propriety of encouraging this intimacy with a
man whom she would never love, it seemed quite pleasant to her to have
some one who could talk intelligently and make himself generally
interesting, always by her--satisfying herself that she might safely
measure his sentiments of regard by her own, and, therefore, never
dreaming of any serious result from their amusing pastimes.
There are so many girls in Ottawa that like very much having an admirer,
an ardent lover even, if he suits their fancy enough to make other girls
jealous, or even worthier-minded girls can comfortably endure an
intelligent, accomplished young fellow to pay them these snug little
attentions for a whole season. There is something in a certain species
of the genus girl which quite overcomes her at times, when she feels so
lonely and so blue that nothing in all sublime creation can restore her
but the soothing odor of a cigar, the deep, earnest accents of a certain
smoker of that cigar, and the clasp of the strong, firm hand that has
placed that delightful weed between those suggestive lips,--when on a
winter evening she steals alone into the drawing room and lowers the
vulgar glare of the gas until everything is misty and undefined as her
own heart, and then throwing herself on the spacious _fauteuil_ before
the grate fire, soars into the world of her imagination, and is happy
with her heart's idol for a few dreamy hours, or depositing herself
carelessly on a cosy sofa, she throws her arms over her shapely head,
and spins away at the cobwebs of her thoughts and wishes, and regrets,
but always on the _qui vive_, listening for _a_ step, _a_ voice, and
wondering now and then, with a start, whether it was the very material
door-gong that she heard, or only the dim, intangible echo of a wild
wish in her agitated heart. Oh! you little group of "teens," there is a
day coming! Brush away those filmy cobwebs of your pleasant dreams; they
are hiding your reality. Shut out that mass of "tangled sunbeams" that
interrupts your future; there is a pall over the heart, now bounding in
its untold delight. There are tears in the dreamy, wistful eyes; there
is suffering portrayed on the pretty face; the spirit of anguish keeps
its steady guard at the threshold of those smiling lips--but--what have
I done? Oh! forgive me, youth now tangled in those golden meshes. I
unsay the words, mine must not be the tyrant hand to tear away the
screen a merciful Father has placed between you and what is to come. No!
no! smile and dream and hope and wait on.
One evening, as Henry Rayne lay reclining among his cushions before the
glowing coals, Honor and Jean d'Alberg burst in upon him in his
solitude, full of fresh, blooming spirits, laughing and feeling numb
"Here? you selfish old pet," Honor said, running towards him, "toasting
your limbs by the fire, so cosily, when your little girl is freezing on
the streets, starved and numb!"
The old man leaned back his white head on the velvet upholstering, and
looked lovingly into the bright, happy, blushing face of the girl
standing behind him, then taking both her little "frozen" hands in his
dry, warm ones, he squeezed them tenderly, saying--
"To be sure, you are numb, you lovely little witch. Have you been firing
snow-balls, or shovelling snow or what?"
"Most likely," Honor answered with mock dignity, "a young lady aspiring
to the wisdom of her twenties is sure to spend her time firing
snow-balls against the fence."
"Oh, no of-_fence_ to you, frozen queen," Henry Rayne interrupted,
looking shyly up to see how his pun was appreciated.
"Not a bad attempt for a dull mind at all," the girl said laughingly,
"don't forget it, and I'll give you a chance to use it again, when
there's more appreciation in the room than there is just now."
"Come, come, you little humbug, take off that gigantic sacque, and sit
down here; _upun_ my word I won't make any more of those nasty _jeu de
"Oh, I see you are a hopeless case," Honor said, sighing heavily, at the
same time undoing lazily the great seal fastenings of her seal coat, as
he bade her. She then drew out the long pins from her velvet "poke" and
removed that becoming article from her head.
"Give them to Jean," Mr. Rayne said, motioning backward, "she will be
going up directly."
"It is well she has transferred herself to that place already," Honor
replied, "or she would not be too flattered to think that her presence
had made such a little impression all the while."
As she delivered this little speech, she touched her dainty fingers to
the bell beside her, and when Nanette appeared in the doorway, she gave
her her costly bundle of street wear to carry away upstairs, and as the
faithful attendant piled them respectfully on her arm, Honor prepared to
seat herself beside her guardian, for a "little chat."
"Well, I hope you're ready at last, dear knows it does take a time for
you females to get out of your finery," Henry Rayne said in assumed
"There now, don't grumble out in 'sour grapes' style," Honor replied,
playfully, "you can't blame anyone if you did not happen to be a nice
young girl, to wear poke bonnets and jerseys, and becoming little
nothings--we know you poor unfortunate males are half dead with envy,
when you contrast your clumsy suits, every one's the same to look at,
with the endless variety of our costumes, but all the same you can't say
it's anyone's particular fault that you have all been great grizzly
"Well, upon my word," Henry Rayne laughed in astonishment, "I hope you
have an idea of your sex--come, stop that silly babble about men pining
for a transformation, and sit you down here near me; I want to talk of
something more reasonable than that. Surely you're ready now?"
"Yes, quite--oh! but wait one minute--Nanette," she called, balancing
herself on her dainty toes, towards the door, "I'll take my handkerchief
from my muff, please,--there," as she shook out the dainty scented folds
of a lawn handkerchief, "I am quite, quite, quite ready--begin when
_you_ like, and end when I like."
She drew over a tiny footstool and sat upon it, and nestled her head on
the arm of Henry Rayne's chair. Lovingly he stole his trembling hand
over it, and as he toyed with her graceful curls, he began to tell her
his little secrets--
"Honor, you've been going out a great deal of late," he began,
"Oh, don't lecture me for always being out late," she interrupted,
"Now don't you say another word, little puss, until your elders
"Very well then, cross elder, go on," said she, taking his hand in hers
and rubbing it gently up and down her velvet cheek.
"But perhaps you feel like prattling a little, after coming in," he
interrupted, half regretfully, "so, let you begin, tell me where you've
been this afternoon, and what you saw, and all about it, and when I've
shown you by example what a patient listener is, I shall expect a return
of courtesy when my turn comes."
"Well, if it isn't just dreadful to have to yield to the caprices of
some people," murmured Honor, with pretended resignation, and then
glancing reassuringly up at the kind old face above her, she began--
"This afternoon, didn't you know, we went to the matinee--Miss Reid, Mr.
Apley, Aunt Jean, Vivian and the _charming_ Miss Edgeworth, all
"To the matinee, eh little one? And did you like it?"
"Well, I love the theatre, any way," argued Honor, "and so I liked the
performance to-day, it was rather--exalted."
"Exalted, was it?" Henry Rayne said in a listening sort of repetition,
"Oh, first a love match--vows of fidelity--a wedding--a neglected
wife--a husband that flirts--then quarrels, and tears, and rage, and
despair, and the other party that is always a handsome man, to
sympathize with the afflicted wife, then jealousy, threats and a duel,
and the love match all over again."
"Well, well," laughed Mr. Rayne, "that is as well as if I saw it all. I
think you take to 'exalted' phases of the drama--don't you, little one?"
"Well, you see," she said, shaking her head wisely, "other people's
miseries and misfortunes, seem so romantic and exalted to us--there's
the secret; I'm sure there's nothing we girls relish more than the story
of some newly-wedded pair that disagree, of a wife who pines in
sentimental solitude, or revenges herself in tragic retribution--that is
great excitement for us--but amiable as any of us are, I don't think
we'd consent to make romance for our girl friends at such a cost as
that, do you?"
"Well, I rather hope you would not," Mr. Rayne answered, with a smile.
"How true it is though," Honor continued, "that we are all so much
better adapted to bear one another's burdens of life than we are our
own, we are always ready to say 'If we were they, we should never have
done such and such things in such and such circumstances,' and after
all, I do not think that in our own emergencies, we do one whit better,
"You are right there, child," her guardian answered, reflectively,
"under our trying circumstances we always want to do our best, and yet
our neighbors cannot help fancying that in our places they could have
exercised so much more discretion than we--that is the way we make
mistakes in life, attributing force and virtue to ourselves, which could
only make themselves manifest were we in other people's shoes."
"Now, you think just like I do, I am so glad, because Vivian didn't, he
said he thought other people, at least _some_ other people, always did
things infinitely better than he could do them."
"Did he?" queried Mr. Rayne, with a mischievous chuckle, "well, I
suppose that those '_some other people_' actually can, in his eyes. I
wonder who he meant?"
"I am sure I don't know," said Honor, tapping her foot nervously on the
shining fender, "but we both agreed that if such a thing happened in
real life as was represented on the stage to-day, the man who thus
slighted and neglected any woman he had promised to cherish and love,
should be punished just as far as justice and humanity could go in
"That is certainly true," said Mr, Rayne, "the punishment, in my eyes,
should equal the crime, and the crime, I think, is unpardonable--but
come now, we've talked enough about these awful things; I want my
turn--you see--Honor, this is the fifth of December."
"And Christmas will be in three weeks more."
"I guess I know that," Honor said meaningly.
"Well, I want you to do me a big favor this Christmas."
"Really?" said Honor, in surprise, "What big favor can I do for you?"
"I want you and Jean to organize--"
"A splendid, big, grand--"
"Not quite--but a 'stunning' ball, a real stylish ball; ask everyone you
know; throw the doors wide open and give an entertainment with great
_eclat_. You must empty the drawing-room quite out, have the orchestra
engaged, and a _menu_ that will outrival everything. I want a jolly,
rattling Christmas merriment that everyone will remember ..."
Honor looked quickly up, and said in a tone of astonishment:
"Well, dear old baby, I hope you have a queer notion at last--why, that
would be no end of fuss and worry and trouble."
"No matter," he answered, "get help everywhere for everything. I told
you first, because you can coax aunt Jean better than I can, don't 'go
back on me' now, after I've confided my little plan to you. I expect a
great deal of help from you."
"All right then," said Honor, striking one tightly clenched little hand
down on the open palm of the other, "if it costs so much that we will
all have to sell out and beg for New Year's, you need not blame me; I'll
give you all the help you want, don't fear, but when the fun is over, I
hope you won't have too much trouble to help yourself."
"Never mind the consequences," her guardian answered good-humoredly.
And so it was settled that there would be a grand ball at Mr. Rayne's
house during Christmas week; the invitations were issued and busy
preparations begun by all hands. The long drawing room and library were
opened into one, and all their furniture conveyed into other apartments.
The dining room and comfortable morning room, or family _boudoir_, were
also opened into one large refreshment room. The little study under the
balcony (down which Guy had climbed on the eventful night of his
escapade) was fitted up for a _tete-a-tete_ corner, with comfortable
arm-chairs, bird cages and sweet smelling plants. Then there were
decorations made of palm and flags, and millions of sundry other things
to crowd into a little space of time.
Vivian saw little of Honor during these days of endless fuss and bustle,
but he appeared satisfied to sit and chat quietly with Henry Rayne, who
was unable to share in the general riot and confusion. There seemed to
have sprung a strange intimacy between these two men, and this link was
no other than Honor Edgeworth, in fact, she was so dear to the heart of
her kind guardian that it warmed to anyone who showed an interest in
her. One evening as Vivian and Mr. Rayne chatted together in the
latter's study, Honor broke in upon them, holding between her dainty
hands a steaming bowl of broth, which she commanded Mr. Rayne to "devour
there and then." Obediently as a child, he supped the wholesome draught,
and when he had drained the last spoonful, she kissed him hurriedly on
the brow and bustled out again, smiling pleasantly, and telling her
guardian he was "a real good boy."
When the door had closed upon her, Henry Rayne, turning to Vivian, said
"She is the sweetest girl under the sun, I think my heart would break
"Then I think you might sympathise more ardently with me," the young man
answered, half doggedly, "I am nearly tired of waiting for that
opportunity that never comes."
"Don't blame me, boy, before you know," was the serious retort, "I am
trying my skill in your cause all this while. It is solely in your
interest that I have planned this Christmas festivity. I can imagine no
moment more propitious for the pleading of your cause, than one snatched
from the confusion and excitement of such an hour, when the heart is
made suggestive by strains of music and peals of laughter and sounds of
gaiety and gladness everywhere."
"You are right," Vivian said, smiling. "I did not give you credit
though, for so much sentimentality."
"It is not that," the old man answered sadly. "No, my dear boy, but, no
matter how capricious and fickle time is, it cannot alter the heart.
What is love to-day, was love in my day, and for ages before, and will
be to the end of time. It is a very universal passion, and is easily
aroused. A note of music, a breath, a sigh or a little pressure of the
hand may be enough to call it out from its hidden nook within the heart.
You can't tell me what it is to love, my boy, nor can I tell you, though
we've both passed through the experience, the explicable part is a
prominent part, I admit, if we analyse the little creeping sensations of
gladness, that a touch of her hand, no matter how inadvertent, or the
steady gaze of her deep eyes, could cause us to feel. Why, my dear boy,
I am an old man now, but my memory is young yet, and I dwell on this
dear page of my past, with the same feelings of gratification that
animate you on your first experience. I don't know now, any more than I
did then, though I'm an older and a wiser man, what there is in a
woman's clear eye, a woman's voice or a woman's hand, to make us shiver
and creep, and unman us the way they do; but perhaps 'tis the mystery
makes the charm, if so, may it never be unravelled, for a fellow's love
days are about the only things which can compensate him for the misery
of the rest of his life."
This, contrary to appearances, fell as gall on the heart of Vivian
Standish, he who had never loved with a pure, unsullied devotion,
grieved to hear of the joys of one who had. It is bad enough, that
certain luxuries of life have been denied us, either through our own
folly or the still less bitter interference of others. How much worse it
becomes when we are forced to listen to the story of their worth, from
those who have gained what we have so recklessly lost! Such words as
those addressed by Henry Rayne, were perhaps the only ones that could
impress the hardened heart of Vivian Standish with a hatred for the
crimes and follies of his life.
My latest found--
Heaven's last, best gift.
My ever new delight
Christmas Eve of 188-, with all its soft, fleecy snow, its merry sleigh
bells, its decorations, its plenty and its poverty, its rejoicings and
its wailings, its hopes and its fears--the day of huge, warm fires and
smouldering faggots, of sumptuous dinners and scanty crusts, the night
of all others, that the satisfied thanksgiving of the rich, and the
heart-rending craving of the pauper, meet at the throne of God.
At noon of this bright, merry Christmas Eve, among the many passengers
on board the mid-day train that rushed into the Union Depot, was one who
interests us more than all the business fathers, school girls, or
college students, or other absent members of Ottawa families, returning
to spend Christmas with their friends. He is a young, good-looking man,
in a long sealskin coat and cap. As the bell ceases its clanging on
reaching the platform, he seems to pull his cap down purposely, and
otherwise to gather himself into the plushy depths of his warm furs, he
hires the first cabman that accosts him, shoves in his heavy valise,
which is all the baggage he has, and in a gruff sort of voice, orders to
be driven to the "Albion Hotel." There is nothing surprising in it at
all, the gentleman certainly looks like a "Russell House" patronizer,
but then the "Albion" is quiet and secluded, and perhaps this gentleman
prefers it to the endless noises of greater hotels. The gratified
cabman, happy over his hasty bargain, which delivered him from a half
hour's stamping of feet and clapping of his fur covered hands, never
cares to wonder whether the occupant of his sleigh is a disguised
swindler or an Earl _in-cog_, but jingles his sleigh bells hurriedly in
the direction of Nicholas street.
Christmas Eve, with a pale, clear moon, shining placidly down on the
still, white features of nature; the tall, bare boughs, sprinkled with
the afternoon's flakes, are showing out brightly in the silver light of
the Christmas moon, great soft feathery masses of white clouds chase
fair Luna through the deep ethereal blue of the heaven's vault.
From every respectable direction in the city, sleighs are speeding
merrily along with their dainty bundles of woollen wraps and tucked-up
skirts. Prim young gentlemen, in their shiny swallow-tails, with their
creaseless white cravats and little scarlet buds in their buttonholes,
work their way into top coats and fur jackets, and dropping their
latch-keys into their breast pockets, start off, all going in the same
direction, towards the grand dwelling on Sandy Hill, that everyone knows
to be Henry Rayne's.
Apart from Rideau Hall, which is the grand centre of all festivities and
pleasures, for those who sojourn in Ottawa during the winter months,
there are a few other places whose very names are pleasant to the ear,
on account of the warm hospitality they suggest, but were Ottawa in
general, far more sociable and hospitable a city than it is, we would
scarcely consider that it merited any special eulogy on that account,
for, if it were willing to profit by the great advantages it enjoys over
other cities, of learning how to render itself agreeable, generous and
worthy, in its social relationship with its people, it could not follow
a more admirable example than is set by its much esteemed, much beloved
The pity is, that the old enthusiasts, and the early promoters of
Bytown's prosperity, could not have lived to see the day, on which their
little town became an important city, the capital of a grand Dominion,
and the home of Royalty. That His Excellency the Marquis of Lorne, and
his Royal Consort, the Princess Louise, should come amongst us to take
up their abode, is in itself a proud boast, not alone for Ottawa, but
for Canada at large, but that in their amiable condescension, they
should throw open the portals of their home, and receive with such
gracious and unaffected courtesy, their humble inferiors, overflows the
heart of Canadian society with intense gratification.
What a suasory example it is for those, who through some freak of
fortune, being enabled to shake off the dust of honest toil and
industry, are very ready to look downward with contempt upon the rank
they have just left. What must they think of our noble, hospitable
Governor, and Her Royal Highness Princess Louise, who so amiably and
courteously receive social inferiors within their home? How can _they_
feed themselves with a shallow pride, and affect a ridiculous
superiority, when the daughter of Her Most Gracious Majesty, Queen
Victoria, will condescend to assemble under her own roof, persons of a
social grade so far removed from her own.
But in profiting by this lavish display of hospitality, Canada contracts
a debt, and incurs an obligation, which she will not hesitate to pay
generously and willingly, with profoundest love, admiration and loyalty.
Such names as those of our Governor-General and of his Royal Consort,
become engraven upon the heart of the country, for future generations to
revere, honor and admire.
We will now return to the remote cause of these just reflections, to the
residence of Henry Rayne, who is indeed one of Ottawa's distinguished
Floods of brilliant gas-light stream out through the windows,
illuminating the shaded avenue and blending with the modest light of the
full moon outside. Inside the air is heavy with the perfumes of
decorations and blooming flowers. Exquisitely made adornings greet one
at every turning. In a room opposite to the drawing room, are Jean
d'Alberg and Honor Edgeworth, ready to receive their guests: the former
looks very imposing in a dress of myrtle green plush and pale blue,
brocaded satin, which is most becomingly made, and which, with a pair of
diamond earrings and a matronly little head dress, comprises her whole
Honor is a marvel of feminine loveliness, her brow as white as marble,
and her hair creeping over it in its chestnut waves, has a beautiful
effect; there is an enhancing flush of excitement on her cheeks, and her
eyes sparkle with unusual brilliancy. Attired in a long flowing dress of
white waterplush and satin, from which hang on all sides, little
trembling fringes of delicate white pearls, Honor is more like a vision
of the supernatural than anything real. Where her costly robe falls in
graceful folds to her dainty shoes and sweeps over the floor for yards
behind, it is literally covered with natural rosebuds and sprigs of
heliotrope that rival with the loveliness of her whom they adorn. Her
bare white neck is encircled by strings of tiny pearls, coils of pearls
are also twisted in her dark brown hair, making her a breathing goddess
of loveliness and wonder, as she stands awaiting her guests' arrivals.
"I will have time to run and say a word to dear Mr. Rayne," Honor says,
gathering up her handsome skirt and skipping out of the room, she races
up the stairs with the recklessness of a child in its morning wrapper
and knocks timidly at the door of the temporary sitting-room above. At
the faint sound of "come in" she pushes open the door and stands in all
her splendid array before Mr. Rayne.
"Do you know, I wish so much you could come down stairs," she said
techily, "I am lonesome every second for you," and kneeling on one knee
beside him, the lovely girl encircled the old man's neck with her bare
white arms, caressing him childishly.
"Oh, ho!--come now, don't begin to play your little frauds on me, how
lonely you are to be sure, looking like a queen in a vision, and ready
to break a hundred hearts, be off, you are a dear little humbug, ha ha
There was something of the old humor of long ago in the laugh that Mr.
Rayne directed into Honor's pretty pink and white ear.
"What a voice!" Honor exclaimed in mock horror, "truly, you've quite
deafened me with that terrible shout," and she frowned pettishly,
putting her little gloved hands sympathisingly to her ears.
"Well, that will hold for a while," he answered mischievously, "you need
not trouble yourself coming up to hear me again for a while."
"You mean old darling," the girl returned playfully, "I'll go down
stairs and not think of you once more all night," and in another instant
she was re-established below in all her dignity, while the pressure of
her lips yet lingered in a sweet impression on Henry Rayne's cheek.
In an hour from that time the quiet, vacant apartments of Mr. Rayne's
house were crowded with a fashionable and merry throng. Young faces
beamed with gladness as they glided under the "mistletoe" with their
partners, to the strains of dreamy waltzes. The programmes were all
filled by now, and the evening's pleasures fully started. Everyone raved
about Honor, and with reason, it was quite amusing to see how
demonstrative the majority of the young ladies present tried to be with
her, intending that this lavish display should be interpreted by the
rest as a mark of the familarity which existed between them and Henry
Rayne's handsome _protegee_.
Miss Sadie Reid, Miss Dash and Miss Mountainhead, and all last season's
heroines were there, it is the best and worst feature of Ottawa society,
that, like a circus, if you attend one fashionable entertainment, you
have attended them all, the _belles_ of one ball are the _belles_ of
another, and the wall-flowers of one are the wall-flowers of another.
* * * * *
"Honor, whose waltz is this?" said Vivian Standish, pausing before her
and looking admiringly into her eyes.
"Oh dear, I don't know," said Honor in assumed despair, "I've lost my
programme and am thrown quite on the mercy and veracity of my gentlemen
friends. I regret to say--if you say this is yours--I cant refuse it,
for I've neither programme nor memory to prove the contrary."
"I hope you may regain neither to-night, for I think, I must make you
remember, you've promised me, all the other waltzes, to-night."
"Indeed, I doubt, if even this is yours," retorted she, "I've given you
"It is a wonder you remember," he said, a little sadly. "Surely you do
not regret it--any way this one is mine, and we are losing golden
moments, all this while--come--" encircling her waist, and as the music
made an appropriate _crescendo_, she heard him add in muffled
enthusiasm, "My darling."
After waltzing a delightful, ten minutes or so, Vivian very artfully
stopped, at the exit which led to the suggestive little _boudoir_
outside, and stole away, with Honor on his arm, into a quiet recess,
near the tall French window, from whence the moon-lit, snow-covered
gardens were plainly visible, the gas-light inside was burning ever so
low, a sweet sleepy sort of perfume filled the room, strains of a German
waltz were creeping in twittering echoes into the little corner where
this handsome couple had seated themselves, the critical moment had
come. It was now, or never.
But happy they, the happiest of their kind
Whom gentle stars unite, and in one fate
Their hearts, their fortunes, and their beings blend
Guy Elersley, had long ago abandoned the noctivagent tendencies, that
had only saddened and distracted his life, but to-night, as the clock
struck nine, he deliberately closed the book he had been reading, with a
heavv sigh, lit a cigar, and getting himself into his furs, he strolled
noiselessly out, the great doorway of the quiet hotel and commenced an
onward journey at a brisk pace. He heeded neither the flood of subdued
light, that hung like a veil of hallowed glory over the earth, on this
bright Christmas Eve, nor the busy pedestrians, who hurried to and fro,
with well-filled baskets for to-morrow's celebrations. He did heed an
odd beggar-child who stopped, to hold towards him a Christmas number of
the "_Free Press_," for a penny, or who still more appealingly extended
a little bare frozen hand for charity. He had not far to go on this
nights' ramble, but he walked thoughtfully along, like one, on a serious
errand, the old familiar sights of other days distracted him somewhat,
his eyes wandered mechanically over the walls of the little church of
St. Alban, the martyr, whose angular spire, stood prominently out in the
clear moonlight. A corner away from this, and the glittering roof of St
Joseph's Church attracted his gaze, he was passing close by it now, and
a strange instinct directed his steps towards it; he pushed open the
yielding door, and stood in the streaming moonlight, among vacant pews,
and holy stillness. The Christmas decorations were just discernible by
the flickering light of the sanctuary lamp, and from the windows and
altars of the quiet little church, the faces of hallowed saints looked
down in their venerable simplicity, making the moonlight that made
visible their holy smiles, sanctified and imposing. Guy Elersley had
many qualities, both good and evil, but he was as innocent of church-
going, as he was of murder; of that, at least no one had ever yet
accused him, nevertheless there was a dormant religious enthusiasm in
that young breast, which needed but the touch of the right hand on the
yielding chords of a full heart, to call forth the melodious strains of
an impromptu chant of praise from the creature to his Creator. The soul
of our youth of to-day, resembles in many cases a musical instrument,
which stands in its grandeur and magnificence, unopened and untouched,
the cobwebs of neglect grow over the elegant framework, the dust of ages
cloud its wonderful beauty, because there are no hands to touch its
magic strings, and call forth the hidden melody it contains, some day,
the silence is broken by hazard, a note has been touched, which repeats
and echoes its sweet melancholy, with such an eager pathos, that one
regrets the many years of wasted ecstacies, which time has consumed, and
which might have brightened a lonely life, if the secret had but been
known. To-night, for the first time in his life, the chords of
Elersley's heart, almost rusted, from their wearisome rest gave out such
a soul-stirring melody, that he wondered himself at his susceptibility,
he crept into one of the pews near him, and bowing down his head upon
his trembling hands, he burst forth in a series of mental prayer, when
he raised his eyes again, it seemed to him that an angel had come, and
stolen away every burden of his life a calm, peaceful feeling had crept
into his soul, banishing all the fears and anxieties of a moment before,
he felt as if in the darkness, a bright star had broken forth, showing
him the way to a better and a happier life, and as he pondered, he
suddenly remembered that this was Christmas Eve, that in truth to-night
a glorious star had risen, which would shed its hallowed light over all
Christendom, and bring "Peace on earth to men of good-will."
He walked out of the holy edifice, feeling as he had never felt before
in all his life--telling himself how much of life's sweetness he had
thrown away in miserable exchange for its bitterness and gall. But
though no word of determination or promise formed itself upon his lips,
he felt a resolution filling him of future amendment, a desire to seek
after the strange sweetness he had experienced to-night, and in this
mood he pursued his way.
He too was attracted to-night towards the light and the music and the
merry-making of Mr. Rayne's house.
A host of overwhelming recollections swam before his eyes as he neared
the place; there, from the gate, he could see the fated balcony which
had tempted and facilitated his stealthy exit on that wretched night
when he had broken his uncle's stern command.
"It looks festive," he murmurs sadly, opening the gate noiselessly and
striding up the frozen pathway, "but why need it pain me so?" he said,
as if finishing a soliloquy, which would reproach his relations for so
easily renouncing his memory.
Slowly and noiselessly he stole up the crusty walk until he found
himself outside the tall French window in the recess under the moonlit
balcony. He could hear the strains of music and the peals of merry
laughter--bitter mockery at such a moment! He knew that while he
suffered in suspense outside, _she_ was the object of much admiration
within, that the words of false flatterers charmed her ear, and the
smile of pretended devotion gratified her heart. A man can bear much,
but as it is in his love that he shows himself strongest, it is also--
alas!--in his love that he is weakest. A true woman, then, must never
encourage a passion in the heart of a man which she will not share with
him to the very end. There are some things in life we can jest about and
make trifles of, but we must spare the human heart. There is no jest, no
levity appropriate where that is concerned. Not but that hundreds of
heart-less beauties have toyed laughingly with such playthings all their
lives--they have always done it, they do it still, and will likely
continue to do it so long as the world remains what it is; but, all the
same, we can never cease to regret that a woman should ever make such a
vile mistake, she, whose mission in this life is one of heart, should
never stoop to misapply the advantages that a wise Creator has confided
to her, and whereby she finds her way directly to people's
susceptibilities, to conquer them for a good cause for their sakes, her
own sake, and God's.
Guy was sadder than ever to-night, for besides the customary melancholy
of his life, he was under the painful influence, and in the very
presence of pregnant associations, gone-by days were doubly visible and
clear to him under the shadow of this dear old home that he had so
The snow was carefully swept away from the low, broad steps, and the
thick covering of matting was comfortably visible in the moonlight. Guy
stood to scan the brilliantly illuminated windows: There were figures
gliding here and there through the rooms and corridors, shadows flitted
to and fro, little strains of far-off music crept into his ears--nothing
definable, certainly, sometimes just one deep note of the bass violin,
or a little shrill twittering of a noisy part, but it made his poor
heart ache, and it filled him with those unshed tears of smothered
emotion that are spilled like gall upon the heart that no one sees. He
had been watching for only a few moments, when a grating noise startled
him. He slid into the shadow of a broad pillar, which supported the
portico, and there stood still and expectant. A little silvery laugh
right inside the window went straight to his heart, then followed a word
or two in a musical masculine voice, then a strong effort, and yielding
to it, the long French window opened with a creak.
Up to this Guy had had some chance of escaping, but now as he narrowed
himself into the limits of the shadow cast by the huge pillar, he saw
two figures advance and lean against the opposite casements of the open
doors. At the same moment the moon sailed out from behind a pile of
snowy clouds, and Guy Elersley saw with his greedy eyes--in all her
loveliness, in all her dignity, in all her feminine grace--Honor
Edgeworth, his heart's long-cherished idol, but she was not alone.
Beside her was the tall, stalwart figure of a man in evening dress,
whose head was inclined towards her, whose eyes were seeking hers with a
tender expression of sentiment in their depths. In a moment Guy had
caught the outlines of that face, and instinctively he clutched his hand
and bit his lip, for he had recognized Vivian Standish flirting with the
girl _he_ loved. Her hand was now in his, and he was drawing her closer
to him. The impulse filled Guy to dart forward and level those guilty
arms that dared to encircle the sacred form of one so good and pure as
she, in their sinful embrace, but he quelled it, determining, at any
cost, to hear the issue of this strange _rencontre_--it would be the
verdict upon which hung the life or death of his dearest hopes.
"Honor," he heard Vivian say, "you will surely take cold here in this
"Nonsense," Honor said indignantly, "a fine night like this? I am not so
susceptible as you think, nor as fragile a piece as I look."
Still toying distractedly with her little jeweled hand, Vivian
"You may not be susceptible to cold, but you should be to warmth, such
as my heart offers you, the heat of love's immortal flame--Honor--can
you give me no hope that will make the future worth living for?"
"Surely," she answered seriously, "you have not lived such a worthless
life, all these years, as leaves the future a perfect blank for you."
Guy fancied how Standish must have winced uncomfortably at her words, he
wondered at the provokingly composed way, in which he answered her.
"It is not that exactly," he said, "though I am not at all surprised
that you should think it of me, but, somehow, all the ambitions that
have hitherto stimulated me, seem now to have dwindled into a secondary
importance, of course, it is nothing to you, that my life has become one
long miserable suspense, since destiny has thrown us together, because
our little happinesses are no sacrifice in your great eyes, you cannot
feel the smallest sympathy for a victim such as I, if it were a little
terrier, you had unconsciously wounded, you would take it caressingly in
your arms, and make a gentle atonement for your fault, but there is a
difference between little terrier pups and human hearts, like mine--"
"Is there?" Honor said with a cutting sarcasm, which delighted Guy's
heart, "you really are giving me a piece of information which I should
never have gained from my own personal conclusions. But, have we not had
enough of this romantic nonsense, Mr Standish? I think they have begun
"I don't care if they have," the handsome lover cried huskily, clasping
Honor's hands passionately, and looking into her face with a sort of
hopeless defiance, "I have a word to say, that has been long enough
hanging unsaid upon my lips--hear me now--you must--Honor--I love
you--and I want you to become my wife."
There was a breathless pause of a second--Guy feared the beatings of his
heart would betray him--hungrily he waited to catch the word that would
fall from Honor Edgeworth's lips--his rage, his contempt, his
indignation, had all subsided during this interval of terrible
suspense--he had forgotten for that little moment the depravity of the
man before him, he only knew, that in Honor's eyes, this was a dashing,
handsome, fascinating young fellow, and that the great crisis of his own
life as upon him--one other minute and over the vista of coming years,
would have settled a pall of hopeless darkness or a flood of gorgeous
sunshine--he listened in smothered breaths, the moon hid herself behind
a dark, curling cloud, he could not see now, but he heard the voice,
that had filled his heart for years, speak out m firm and clear, though
"Mr. Standish," Honor said, "will you kindly release my hands from your
uncomfortable grasp," his hands immediately fell by his sides, "I will
not say your precipitation surprises me," she continued coldly,
"somehow, nothing, that _you could_ do, would actually surprise me, but
I must say it displeases me. One instant, suffices for me, to review my
conduct towards you, since the hour of our first meeting, and I can find
absolutely nothing therein, which could have encouraged or even
sanctioned you, in such a wild plan as this--you cannot be quite
yourself to-night--let us forget this unpleasant episode, and return to
the ball-room. I regret having come here at all."
"And you think I suppose, that I will pocket my emotions with such a
dismissal as this? Are you a tyrant altogether?" he asked in terrible
anxiety--then suddenly changing his tone, he appealed, "Honor, you know
it is not we who control our destinies, it is not we who create or guide
our propensities, is it _my_ fault that I have fallen in love with you?
Is it your fault that you are beautiful and loveable and grand? I have
striven with a mighty struggle to overcome my passion, but fate had
another will. You are a woman--kind, good and true, you profess to
understand the human heart; now mine is before you in all its blank
misery--be merciful Honor--I will love you and cherish you all my life
long--I will be your most devoted friend--I will sacrifice every evil
for your sake, and learn from you how to do what is right and good--say
you will consent to take me and let me not face the future with despair
in my soul--do not raise my hand in temptation, for remember if the
heart cannot grant life it can grant death," Honor gasped--Guy opened
his eyes, and tried to read the face of this mysterious man. Even Guy,
schooled as he was in the catalogue of this unfortunate's crimes, almost
pitied him now, and had she been an unsuspecting girl, would most
certainly have yielded to his passionate request--he could scarcely
expect that Honor would act otherwise, until her voice broke the awful
silence and said,--
"No more of this, Mr Standish! You are speaking the language of the
wicked, and it is offensive to me; if you value my regard at all, do not
strive to lessen it--you have been plain and abrupt with me, let me be
the same with you--I can never be more to you than I am at this moment--
all the devotion and love you offer me is no temptation, I may tell you
though, it most likely will yet flatter a worthier girl than I, your
name may yet be gladly shared by a better deserving woman, this I
earnestly wish you--but as I can never, positively never, be a degree
nearer to you than I am to-night, let us drop this painful subject, and
bury it with the other follies of our past."
Vivian Standish stood up straight and grand-looking before Honor, as she
spoke the foregoing words. He was, evidently, not prepared for this, he
hesitated for one instant, deliberating with himself, and as Guy saw his
mortification and disappointment, he could not help feeling that in one
of their successes depended the other's misfortune--he began to hope
again; he could see the struggle in the face of the rejected suitor, he
might have pitied him in the end but for the words of sneering retort
that burst from the white lips at this same instant,--
"Well, it was not my luck to be the first--poor me! How could I have the
audacity to seek a hand that is waiting for another's grasp? But though
you scarcely deserve it, Miss Honor, I will tell you to give up
cherishing the forbidden image that fills your heart--a man whom your
kind guardian has turned--"
Guy winced, and Honor, raising her bare white arm in the moonlight, in
an imposing gesture, cried,
"Stop, sir! How dare you address me thus? I have answered your
questions, be kind enough to leave me now, your presence is growing
"I knew that would hurt," was the jeering retort, "but bless your little
heart, give him up, it is an empty ambition to pine over, he cares no
more for you than that pillar there," pointing to the one which
concealed Guy, "but then there is more romance about forbidden--"
"Leave me, I command you, before I am provoked to speak my mind as
plainly as you deserve to hear it," then, pointing inward, she repeated
emphatically, "Go!" and with a broad smile of mock courtesy he bowed
before her, kissed his hand insolently to her, and saying,
"You dear little thing, I really half like you," he skipped towards the
ball-room, leaving her alone in her excitement.
The noise and merriment had not ceased all this while though this little
room was quiet and deserted, whether the guests had suspected who the
occupants were, and in consequence kept at a respectable distance; or
whether it was just as pleasant to deposit themselves around on the
stairways and in the corridors, during the intervals of the dance, I can
scarcely tell, but in any case the cosy _boudoir_ was, left entirely to
the young hostess and her admirer.
When Vivian had passed into the ball-room again, Honor turned in, and
sank into a low chair by the window, she touched one opened half,
peevishly with her tiny slipper, to shut out the night air that had
begun to chill her; a loose white downy wrap that she had thrown over
her shoulders hung negligently to one side, leaving one round white arm
bare, her head rested languidly back on the crimson cushions of her
chair, the little fringes of pearls that nestled at her bosom on her low
bodice, shivered and trembled as she breathed. The gas burned very low
within, and with its subdued light only helped to make Honor still more
like a spectre than she was. Guy, standing quite close to the panes,
could see the gray pallor that had come over her agitated face, her eyes
wore that far-off look that is not of earth, as if she were peering
through the impenetrable, into mysteries beyond, he leaned forward
breathlessly, noiselessly, and looked into the room, she was
alone--quite alone, looking pale, and ill, and tired--Oh, how he longed
to comfort and protect her! how his heart ached for the right to do so!
"What are men made of, and what puzzling secret tendency is common to
every human heart, that such situations as this totally overcome it?
What is there in the smile of a woman, in the glance of her eye, in the
sound of her voice, to speak so eloquently to man's susceptibilities;
why does one woman never see this power in another, nor one man in his
fellow-man? Is it a portion of ourselves that we recognize in those we
love, that their loss is our wreck and their gain, our fortune? Oh
mysterous mysteries of the human soul, ye taunt us and teaze us, but ye
are our life, our happiness, and our hope, may we never solve your
fascinating secrets, 'tis their obscurity is their charm."
Guy was a strong-minded, unromantic fellow, truly enough, but as he
looked in upon the graceful reclining figure of the girl he loved, lying
still and thoughtful among the cushions of her chair, his heart was just
as inflamed as any victim's of sentiment, his passion filled him, welled
up to his very lips so violent, so strong, that it burst its feeble
limits and broke out in one resistless word, "Honor" the very sound of
his own voice startled Guy, he could have rushed from the spot into
oblivion forever, had not the still reclining figure grown suddenly
animate, like a spark of electric fluid the word vibrated through her
whole frame, she started suddenly up with an expression of blank dismay
on her face.
"Honor," he repeated, more calmly this time, "do not be frightened, it
is only I."
"You! Guy Elersley," she almost gasped, looking full into his eyes, with
a half wistful gaze.
"Yes, Guy Elersley," he answered, a little sadly, "am I intruding?"
"It is not that," she said hesitatingly, "but your presence surprises me
so, I thought you were--"
"Miles away, no doubt," he interrupted, "but now that I am really here,
am I ever so little welcome?"
"You do not need to ask that," Honor said a little formally, "I think
the name of the house is too well-known to necessitate such a question."
"Oh, Honor, you know I do not mean that, why don't you spare me a
little?" Then looking anxiously around the room, he asked, "am I safe
here, to speak to you without fear of being seen or interrupted?"
"May be not," she faltered. "We had better go outside."
She drew the thick heavy folds of her white wrap over her head and
shoulders, and stepped out under the shelter of the portico. When they
reached the farthest end she stood, and said in amused surprise--
"What business of terrible importance could have brought you here in
"I cannot tell you that immediately," he answered seriously, "but you
will know it by and bye, Honor," taking her hands in his, and looking
meaningly into the deep gray eyes, "will you be vexed if I tell you that
I have just overheard your conversation with Vivian Standish?"
"Not half so much as he would be," she answered good-humoredly, "have
you been playing eaves-dropping?"
"In a sort of a way, yes, I was startled by you both, while stealing an
entrance, and I slid behind that pillar there for protection, and of
course had to stop there then."
"If I remember now, Vivian's words compromised you sadly so, for he
spoke rather deprecatingly of the regard that pillar had for me, he must
have known you were there?"
Guy wondered if Honor was playing coquette with him now, he could not
take his eyes off her, she looked so bewitching and lovely, wound up in
her soft white wrappings.
"You are jesting now," he said with a sad earnestness, "Honor, if I had
come to tell you, that after many months of suspense and sacrifice, I
had sought my way back to you, to tell you that, all my hopes and
aspirations were incapable of realization without you, that life would
never be more than an empty dream, unless I had won you, would you pity
me, and believe me, and relieve me?"
As he spoke, he pressed her slender little hands tightly, and looked
hungrily, pleadingly into her large dreamy eyes. She looked suddenly up,
and their glances met, may be for four or five seconds, their eyes
remained in this fixed gaze, then, there were no words required, Guy
Elersley had read his answer clearly, unmistakeably; gently, tenderly,
lovingly he placed his arms around her, and gathered her into his close
embrace, he felt her shiver in his strong arms, then suddenly
remembering himself, he asked--
"Are you cold, Honor?"
"Cold! so near your heart as this, is it cold enough to freeze me?"
"Try it," he whispered, "Oh Honor, could it be possible that life holds
so much enchantment for me yet, are you going to let yourself be won by
such an unworthy admirer as I am, but at least, I can swear to you, that
I have never yet loved any creature as I have you," then interrupting
himself as it were, he asked teazingly--"By the way, who is this _other_
fellow that Standish accused you of loving?--first, is it true that you
did love him?"
Honor fidgeted for a second or so, and then looking shyly up into Guy's
"I hope you won't be vexed, but I am afraid it is a little true I assure
you, I could not help loving him."
"Well, this interests me somewhat," Guy muttered in assumed jealousy.
"Who is he, what is he like, what is his name?"
"Oh, he is not very nice," Honor retorted coquettishly, "quite plain,
almost homely, I should say, but I can't give his name, he did not give
it to _me_--yet."
"Oh, he didn't eh?" Guy said in a voice of gay enthusiasm, "well have
you contemplated what you will do when he offers it to you?"
"Well, I suppose, it would be rude to refuse him, and it is one of those
particular cases, where I would not like to make the slightest breach of
"How considerate you are. Well, come now, tell me his name--you must?"
"If I must, I must, I suppose, but I am sure he would be vexed, if he
knew that I told another man his name, on a moonlight night, in that
other man's arms, his name is--," and while she hesitated, she looked
mischievously up into his radiant face, and then hung her pretty head
half shyly, saying, "Oh, _you_ know--his name is--Jones!" She turned
away her blushing face after this, and Guy, who never felt so happy in
all his life before, laughed merrily over her little joke, then stooping
to the pretty lips, yet sweet with their delicious confession, he stole
the first long kiss of love! A very strong mark of his affection, if we
believe, like Byron, that "a kisses strength, we think, should be
reckoned by its length." Then the merriment died out of each passionate
face, Honor's society gravity passed like a quick shadow over her
radiant features; placing both her hands on Guy's strong heaving breast,
she raised her wistful face to his, and said so seriously,
"Guy--what has passed between us to-night, has formed the crisis of our
lives. We have told one another of our loves, and now we must remember,
that whatever comes or goes, we belong by a sacred right, exclusively
one to another. We have laid bare our lives' secrets, our confidence has
been mutual, let us never forget the responsibilities that these avowals
entail, I believe we are both happy to-night, and I hope it is only the
beginning of a sequel of many such nights and days."
Guy held her beautiful face in his hands and said in loving earnest--
"You have spoken the very words of my own heart, Honor, not until my
soul gives up the capacity to love on earth, will I for one instant
prove faithless to the pledge I have spoken to-night." As they walked
slowly back to the open window, Guy took occasion to ask Honor, whether
she had cared in the least degree for Vivian Standish; Honor only looked
up smilingly, and said--
"Don't be jealous of the regard I have bestowed upon him, poor fellow,
he deserved it all, but after this, I fear, he may not get exactly his
due, however, I have done with him for the rest of my life."
"I have a little dealing to do with him," Guy said meaningly, "and the
only condition upon which I could have shown him any leniency, would be
that you had ever cared for him; I am glad to know you have not."
"I would not say it, to bring him rigid justice at your hands," Honor
interrupted, "but still I would rather declare, that I am entirely
innocent of ever having had the slightest penchant in that direction."
"I will not prevent you from making that a boast," Guy answered, "but I
might have known, that there could never exist any affinity between you
They had reached the doorway now, and Guy took the little hand Honor
extended within his own--
"Good night," he said, and then rubbing her fingers caressingly between
his warm palms, he said reproachfully:
"I have kept you too long, have I not, your hands are so cold?"
"Never mind that," she answered sadly, "that is not the coldness which
makes us suffer most, if you never make me feel any other coldness than
this, we will be good friends all our lives."
"Trust me," he answered earnestly, "that time will never come, Honor,
when my coldness will chill you, the coldness of death will come upon me
Then their lips met again, and with a fond good-night, they parted.
Honor stole back to the little room within. She had not been an hour
away altogether, and yet it seemed to her she was a dozen whole years
older in experience. The night air had brought a ruddy glow into her
pale face, and the happy tale of love just gathered from Guy's lips had
kindled a light of dazzling beauty in her eyes.
When she returned to the ball room, leaning on the arm of a fussy old
bachelor whom she had intercepted on the way, everyone noticed how
bright and happy she looked, and the would-be sages shook their heads
and envied Vivian Standish in their hearts for having captured such a
prize of rare beauty and goodness.
It seemed quite _apropos_ also that Vivian and Honor should evade one
another for the rest of the night, this they did, though not in a
remarkable way, for Honor was too worldly-wise to betray herself before
a ball-room full of people. Their mutual separation gave other young
enthusiasts ample chance to amuse themselves with each other.
Vivian Standish moved through the crowd with the same placid, self
sufficient smile that he always wore, he was just as interesting and as
gay as ever, and to the delight of all the young "fancy free" ladies,
sought their society more generously during the rest of this evening at
Mr. Rayne's than he had ever done since rumor linked him with Honor
Miss Mountainhead, who had always had a wild enthusiasm for Vivian
Standish without ever being able to form his acquaintance, followed his
graceful figure greedily with her calculating eyes through the crowded
room to-night. She felt that before this entertainment ended she would
have met and spoken to him, and she was beginning to exult therein
already. As she sat cogitating thus, a group of young men formed
themselves a little in front of her: looking up, she saw Vivian
Standish, who was amusing the rest, with some droll quotation. Little
did she realize what she was contemplating in this deceptive face, what
a perfect practitioner he was in the art of seeming and appearing,
commanding his outside as he did, with an ease that did him credit! No
one except Honor in all that gay coterie, had ever seen him disconcerted
or in a dilemma, even at this very moment, who could tell? not even Miss
Mountainhead, who studied him so closely, that he was racked by painful
emotions while he was causing merriment to this little group of friends.
It was a splendid opportunity for Miss Gerty's introduction. Bob Apley,
her cousin, stood very near her listening to the fun. He knew perfectly
well how she longed for this gratification, and yet he would not give it
to her now when he had such a golden opportunity. She had waited long
enough for him to seek her out, but all in vain she resolved not to let
this night pass without satisfying herself.
While she seemingly listened with all cold serenity of countenance to
Madame d'Alberg's commonplace remarks, she quietly stretched out her
blue satin slipper and proceeded to impress her negligent cousin with
the fact that she wanted him to fulfil an old promise of his; not
heeding her first gentle reminder, she turned her face with its eager
listening expression, very pronouncedly to Madame d'Alberg and repeated
the movement with an increased emphasis, resolved to make him notice her
before she gave up.
With a curious, puzzled expression on his face, Vivian Standish turned
to see who could be paying such marked attentions to his shining
"pomps," but his surprise only augmented a hundred-fold on seeing the
guilty slipper of a young lady with whom he was not acquainted. She was
fanning herself violently as he turned, and without looking back she
muttered behind her fan in his direction "can't you introduce me?"
The whole situation burst upon him in a moment, he knew her to be
acquainted with every other one in the crowd but himself, and her satin
slipper had mistaken him, in its errand, for her "cousin Bob," leaving
the impression on his foot. It was too good a situation to forfeit, so
taking Bob Apley by the shoulder, he turned him around and said--"Miss
Mountainhead, allow me to introduce my friend Mr Apley." The poor girl
looked aghast; her confusion left her speechless.
"Is this not the one?" Vivian queried provokingly, "you see I didn't
understand from dainty slipper, which friend you could mean."
He had managed that no one heard the joke besides Apley and themselves,
but she looked more to be pitied over it than any sea-sick maiden she
blushed and stammered, and got confused by turns, until Vivian artfully
shifted the topic and asked her for the pleasure of the next dance.
The night sped on, and the Christmas festivities at Mr. Rayne's came to
a close. No one was any the wiser of the difference that it had caused
between Honor and Vivian, each had succeeded well in deceiving curious
eyes, and in puzzling the suspicious, jealous ones who surrounded them.
Amid many glad greetings of "merry Christmas," Honor's guests departed
after having enjoyed a most glorious evening in the house of her
And steadfast love of years,
The kindly, that from childhood grew,
The faithful to our tears"
The day after the ball, to the great grief of his devoted household,
Henry Rayne was much weaker than usual. His tasty, tempting breakfast
went back untouched to the kitchen. Although he had not gone down last
night to the scene of gaiety below, his intimate and privileged friends
had visited him in his own apartments above, and the reaction of this
excitement had assumed alarming features to-day.
Honor hastened to his side the moment she had finished a hurried toilet.
She got herself impatiently into a wrapper of dark red cashmere, which
fastened at the waist with cords and heavy tassels. A little ruffle of
lace bound her throat, and her feet were thrust into dainty slippers,
her beautiful hair hung in two long braids down her back, making a
perfect picture of her _en deshabille_. She walked stealthily to the
door of the sick room, and seeing the dim eyes of her loved invalid
looking at her, wide open, she ventured in. She advanced slowly to the
large chair on which he sat, and half-seating herself on the cushioned
arm, she threw her arms around his neck and asked in a melancholy voice,
"how he felt this morning?"
"They tell me you are not so well, to-day, is that true, dear old pet,
when I have come to wish you the brightest, happiest Christmas day that
will be spent on earth?"
The dim eyes of the old man turned lovingly on her for a moment, his
lips trembled and his voice was suspiciously shaky as he answered,
"Oh, 'tis nothing to dread, my darling; I am only a little weaker,
"Yes; but that's a great deal," Honor retorted, "and we must try all we
can to restore you before to-morrow. You were getting on so nicely. I
wonder what can have made the difference."
"Why, you'll quite spoil me," the gentle voice tried to say jestingly,
but the eyes closed languidly and the head drooped helplessly back among
the cushions. Two great, round tears stood in Honors eyes, she bowed her
head over the suffering form, and kissed the clammy brow of the
invalid--she tried to say something of encouragment, but great sobs of
stifled anguish choked the passage in her throat.
A moment after, the sick man raised his lids wearily and looked on the
girl's clouded face.
"My dear little one," he faltered, as he saw the wet lashes and the
trembling lips, "I think, after all, you love your old friend a little
Honor tried to smile through her tears--it was like a little rainbow
bursting through the clouds. She knelt down beside him, and looking up
earnestly into his face, said,
"You _must_ get better, if 'twere only for my sake. I did not realize
before as I do now how essential you are to my very existence. I shudder
to imagine life without you, and yet if you do not eat and nourish
yourself during these days, you cannot--" but she would not say the
fearful word--her head fell on his shoulder, and she burst into tears.
"My darling!" muttered the unsteady voice of the invalid, "life was
never so seductive to me as it is now, there was a time when I did not
much mind whether I lived or died, but that was before I had you,--since
you have begun to share my solitary life, turning it's dark, dreary
nights into days of happy brightness, I have seen it with other eyes. I
have resigned my days as they passed, one by one, with a greedy,
unwilling resignation, because I had learned to prize them and to love
them, after I had prized and loved you; but, now!--if I must give them
up all at once and forever, I am not going to grumble." A low sob of
suppressed pain escaped the girl's lips. "I have had more comfort in
this world than I ever counted upon," he continued, "I have not known
poverty or destitution, and since a merciful Creator has spared me from
so many briars and thorns of life, I must be doubly resigned to leave
the comforts I have so undeservedly enjoyed, and obey His call."
"Oh! dear Mr. Rayne!" sobbed the girl, "do not, pray do not speak like
that, you are so low-spirited to-day. You will be quite well yet, you
are strong enough to battle with a little illness. Don't say you are
going to leave me so willingly--such a thing would break my heart," and
bowing her head on her folded arms, she wept silently and bitterly.
After a moment of painful pause, Henry Rayne raised the drooped head and
said in a tender, loving accent,
"We are distressing one another, my darling, run away now, and distract
yourself elsewhere. I have much to think about." Honor turned to do as
she was bid, but she had barely reached the door when she heard the
feeble voice of her guardian calling her back. When she stood before him
again, his eyes wore a pensive, distracted look, and his voice was
wonderfully serious, as he asked,
"Honor, do you love me now, think you, just as you would have loved your
own father, had he lived?"
Clasping her hands in an attitude of thoughtful attention, she answered,
"Have you had any reason to doubt it, my more than father?--have I, in
word or deed, ever caused the slightest shade of disappointment to
darken your brow, that you deem this question necessary?"
"Tis none of these, my little one," he answered tenderly, "but your
words reassure me, and I like to hear you say them"--then changing his
tone suddenly, to one of pleading enquiry, he asked. "If I were to wish
you to do me a great favor, Honor, which involved the sacrifice of your
own feelings, and the risk of your future happiness, but that, I did so,
merely on account of my great love for you, do you think, you could be
so unselfish, so grand, as to slight every other consideration for mine,
and grant me my wild wish?"
With a little wistful, puzzled look on her face, she answered "There is
no word of binding promise, that it is possible for my lips to utter,
nor no deed bespoken before its committal, by your request or command,
that you may not consider, as wholly yours beforehand, for the
confidence that you have deserved I should place in you, assures me,
that you will ask nothing of me, which is not thoroughly consistent with
my welfare and happiness."
"What a noble creature you are!" the old man exclaimed faintly, then
turning, and looking her tenderly in the face, he said "I understand,
then, that very soon, when I make a request of you, you will not deny me
the extreme gratification of giving my request due consideration?"
Impulsively, frankly, innocently, Honor thrust her little hands into
those of her guardian, and smiling half sadly, said "A promise is a
promise--there is mine."
"Hark! the word by Christmas spoken,
Let the sword of wrath be broken,
Let the wrath of battle cease,
Christmas hath no word but--Peace"
Christmas day was unusually gloomy at Mr Rayne's this year, but it was
quite a voluntary stillness, that reigned there; no one felt gay, or
happy, while the loved master of the house was so low. Jean d'Alberg
stole around in velvet slippers, and the others scarcely moved at all,
as for Honor, she lived in the _boudoir_ below stairs lying awake on the
cosy lounge, dreaming all sorts of day dreams, while she awaited the end
of this painful interruption in their domestic happiness.
The sky was slightly overcast with soft, gray clouds, but the day was
fine, and Honor watched the happier passers-by, through the large window
opposite, with a lazy, aimless interest.
Vivian did not come at all, as might have been expected, in fact the day
was one of the most unusual, that had ever been passed within the walls
of this cheerful home.
Circumstances mould our lives so strangely and capriciously, that we are
ever doing things, which in after moments surprise ourselves those
unplanned, unplotted, spontaneous deeds of ours that spring from the
natural source of action, directly as it is influenced by some passing
circumstance of moment! These are where the true character is betrayed,
and the mind and heart laid bare, in their most genuine state.
Afterwards, when everything is past and done, we can judge of ourselves
at will, we can regret the golden opportunities, we so foolishly
squandered, or we can wonder at the strength and magnanimity, that we
had unconsciously displayed in the hour of trial. Only, we know, that
such little moments of an existence have but one passage through time,
and their foot-prints are indelible, on that well-trodden shore, be
they, then pleasant or bitter, to think upon, they must hold their place
in our memory, but once, and forever, there is no going back over the
mistaken path; the weak steps that have faltered and staggered where
they should have been firm and strong, may act as melancholy guides, for
the future, but their own deformity is as immortal as the spirit.
This period of Honor Edgeworth's life, fully exemplified these strange
theories, as she lay, during the long, dreary hours of these anxious
days, peering, with the eyes of her soul, into the dark and mystic
realms of the unrealized. There are moments when we seem to coax stern
destiny, into a lively confidence, and in one passing glimpse, she shows
us many closely-written pages of the "to be."
Experience comes to us in a reverie, or in a dream, and we raise
ourselves up from that couch, in a stupid wonder, but our hair has
turned white, hard lines mark the once smooth features, we are sadder,
wiser, more cautious men, but I doubt if it has made us any better. The
halo of golden sunlight that hope sheds over the future, has a holier
influence over our present life, than the shadows of suspicion and
distrust, with which anticipations of evil and darkness, cloud the vista
of coming years.
For a young girl, the possible phases that life may assume is one long
mystery and dread. She knows that while she sits in patience and
quietude, her destiny is being surely and irrevocably woven by other
hands. She will have no bread to earn, no battle to brave, no struggle
to conquer, the thorns and briars on the path far ahead are trampled by
other feet, and plucked by other hands, and when the miles have been
cleared and trodden, the unknown laborer comes forth from his obscurity,
and humbly asks her to arise from her quiet nook, to shake off the
inactivity of her maidenhood, and to tread the beaten path with him.
After this, if a stray obstacle comes in the way, there are two pairs of
hands to gather, two pair of feet to trample whatever obstructs the
smoothness of their onward path, each growing stronger and more willing
for the others sake, 'till they reach the tedious journey's end, content
All this Honor tried to see clearly and impartially. It had pleased
destiny to send back him whom she loved more than all the world besides,
and to send him back unaltered, except that he was handsomer, truer, and
more devoted than ever.
The precious secret, that she had guarded for so long, and with such a
jealous care, had been coaxed from its hiding-place over the threshold
of her lips, and henceforth life meant something vastly different from
what it had hitherto been. She had died, as it were, to her old self,
she would be re-created to that life of holy mysteries, henceforth a
double mission awaited her, double hopes, double fears, those little
untried hands--and she raised them before her--must work two shares in
the task of life, but there was no discouragement in the thought. Those
who have loved as earnestly as she did, will understand why, for there
is a secret courage, and a secret strength, for those who have learned
to cherish the image of another, and to work out another's welfare.
There is a fortitude born on the altar-step, whereon the wedded pair has
knelt, to speak the marriage vows, that none but the wedded can know,
that none but souls bound together in a holy wedlock can understand, the
fortitude that endures in the breast of a woman, through all the fierce
struggles of her married life, that dies only with the last long sigh of
relief at the hour of physical death, that is unquenched by the ashes of
misery and woe that fall on its flickering flame, from time to time, the
fortitude that thrives on sacrifice and endurance, and which if governed
by christian motives, becomes a pass-port for the tried soul, before
Heaven's far-off gate.
Honor felt beforehand, that the active life which lay untouched in the
future for her, was to be sweeter, and happier far, than the passive
existence of her girlhood. Matrimony, in her eyes, was a state of such
sublime responsibilities, that she could spare her thoughts to no other
consideration during these dreary hours of anxious solitude.
She spent her whole days in sketching the hereafter, just as she would
have it. Already she was planning her wifely duties, and asking herself
how she should learn to be always as interesting and as dear to her
husband as she was to her lover. She invented modes of amusement and
distraction, that would make home cheerful and fascinating for him,
resolving within herself, that, if it lay in woman's power, to attract
and bind a man's heart to his fireside, in preference to the old haunts
of his pleasures, she would do it.
Two days of close, concentrated, uninterrupted thought, did not leave
Honor unchanged. Her face grew serious in its beauty, her step was
slower, her conversation less gay, and the distraction of visiting a
sick-room, caused no happy re-action to her pensiveness.
It was now the twenty-seventh of December, a wet, rainy, raw day, fine,
straight lines of persistent rain fell with a dreary drip on the snow's
hard crust, pedestrians with their frozen umbrellas, slipped and slid
along in ill-humor; shop-girls and others, who were out from sheer
necessity, sped along with smileless faces, and frozen ulster-tails,
sulking as they jerked from one icy elevation to another in the flooded
slippery walk, and raising their upper lips in ungraceful curves, as
their straightened curls stood out in painful stiffness, or fell in wet,
clinging bits over their eyes.
Honor shuddered, and shrugged her shoulders as she turned away from the
window, and threw herself into a large chair beside the lounge whereon
was the sleeping form of her invalid guardian. The girls' face wore a
look of dread and anxiety, something of painful impatience hovered
around her mouth, and her eyes looked tired and sad, as she laid her
head languidly back among the cushions.
"How long he sleeps!" she murmured anxiously, "I don't like this
listlessness that has come over him lately; he dozes now all the time."
Then springing quietly up, she stole over to the low couch, and stooped
down beside the sleeping figure, she rested her chin thoughtfully in her
hand and looked earnestly and lovingly into his face. The eyes were only
half closed, the breathing was loud and labored, now and then the lips
moved convulsively, as if in an effort to speak. Something so unnatural
and so forboding dwelt on his kind, dear features, that a racking pain
seized the girl's heart as she looked, her throat filled up, and hot,
blinding tears welled into her eyes.
What is there sadder or more painful, than the quiet, tearful vigils
that some dear one keeps by the sick bed of the unconscious invalid.
With scalding tears in her eyes, and a burning misery in her heart, the
sorrowful mother stoops over the doomed form of her sleeping child,
gently chafing the fevered hands, tenderly cooling the flushed and
fevered brow; softly pressing the trembling lips on the clammy cheek of
her darling, driving back her agony with a heroic cruelty, lest a sob or
a sigh, or a falling tear disturb the quiet slumber of the little one
she loves. A mother and her child, a wife and her husband are never
drawn so closely together, one never seems so truly a part of the other,
as during a moment like this. It seems her baby has never looked so
fair, so faultless in its mother's eyes, as when 'tis viewed through the
blinding tears, that its sufferings and illness have brought into those
searching eyes. A husband's follies and trifling neglects are never so
generously forgiven and forgotten, as when, on bended knee, the wife he
has loved peers greedily, devouringly into the shadowy face, when
clouded by suffering and pain and so it is through all the grades of
binding love we never know how dear our parent, brother, sister, friend
or lover is, until we have watched the weakened forms struggling with
some dread disease, the filmy eyes are then so full of mute appeal, the
faint accents of the poor weak voice thrill our hearts with sympathy and
love, the pressure of the feeble hand is most powerful in drawing us
back, soul to soul, and heart to heart, as though neither of us had ever
done such a very human thing, as to wrong one another. Honor tried to
think, while she watched through her tears, what it would be to live,
without this precious friend forever nigh, to guide and comfort her. In
all the days of their happiness together, they had never spoken of the
time when a separation must come the farthest flight her fancy ever
took, into the distant future, still found her existence blended with
Henry Rayne's. To her, he was now no older, no weaker than he was that
day, long ago, when first she laid her eyes upon him; and now the
horrible possibility of a cruel separation, thrust itself between her
tears and the quiet unconscious face before her.
While she watched, sunk in a melancholy reverie, the bell of the hall
door gave a great ring, which startled her suddenly, it also awoke the
sleeper who looked vacantly into the tear-stained face, and smiled
sadly. Honor got on her knees, and looked anxiously at the worn features
"How do you feel, my dearest?" she said with an effort to be calm, "Any
"I shall soon be better than I ever was before," he answered quietly,
but so seriously that Honor suspected the terrible meaning of his words.
"Don't you feel at all livelier or stronger?" she asked in a despairing
tone. "You know you were so down-hearted yesterday. Do say you feel a
little relieved?" But before he could answer, Fitts appeared in the
doorway, with the letters and packages of the morning delivery. Two were
for Honor, and all the rest were Henry Rayne's. She had only given a
careless glance at hers, but that sufficed to make her heart beat a
great deal faster, and her eyes to sparkle suspiciously. Stooping over
the figure of the invalid, she kissed the heated brow gently, and went
out, leaving him with his important correspondence. She stole down to
the library and gathered herself into a great easy chair, and then,
drawing her letters deliberately from her pocket, she broke their seals
and straightened out their creases. One was a delicate little note from
a girl-friend, which, at any other time, would have been a pleasant
distraction, but which was now refolded and replaced in its dainty
envelope, unappreciated and uncared for. The other--oh, the other! with
its dear familiar outlines, looking almost lovingly into her eyes--"My
darling Honor," just as his voice pronounced it. Her hands trembled
slightly while they held the quivering sheet, from which she read in
silent rapture. When she had finished, and looked at it, and examined it
over and over again, she dropped her hands carelessly in her lap and
said half aloud.
"What _is_ the mystery in all this? I must write and tell him when we
expect Vivian again. This is queer! but then Guy knows best--oh yes! Guy
surely knows best."
Towards five o'clock of this same afternoon Vivian Standish was
announced by Fitts. To every ones surprise, Mr. Rayne admitted him to
his presence, though he was feeling more debilitated and ill than usual,
and what was more astonishing still, they remained for upwards of two
hours closeted in close conversation. They never raised their voices nor
made themselves heard during the whole interview, but talked steadily
and quietly all the while. Finally Madame d'Alberg, thinking the
exertion too much for her patient, bustled into the room and intimated
as much to Vivian in the mildest possible terms.
As she expected, Henry Rayne was much weakened by the effort and refused
to speak or take any nourishment for the rest of the afternoon. He dozed
lazily and languidly until nine o'clock, and then waking somewhat
refreshed, he turned towards Jean d'Alberg, who sat knitting by his
side, and smiled pleasantly.
"I hope I see you in a better humor than before, you dear old bear," she
said quizzingly. "I thought you would eat me up a while ago for bringing
you a bowl of rich broth"
"I suppose I do bore you at times, Jean," he said penitently.
"Well, I should say you did," she sighed in mock heroism, "why, you are
the crossest, and crankiest and sulkiest patient it was ever a woman's
misfortune to nurse. Come now--I am going to dose you with this beef
tea, just for refusing me awhile ago." Her quick blustering way always
amused and aroused him, and he yielded more easily to her than to the
others, but her hand was somewhat nervous to-day as she administered the
nourishing liquid. She, too, saw the ominous shadows of a serious change
in the pale, wasted face.
"Why, you are as feeble almost as myself!" he tried to exclaim, "see how
your hand shakes."
"It is that knitting," she answered distractedly, "but I must finish
those silk stockings for Honor's New Year's gift, so I hurry them up
while I can sit in here alone."
"For Honor, eh!" he said so pathetically, that the words moved her. "I
believe you love her too, Jean?"
"Indeed I do, Henry, she is half my life to me now."
"Thank God," he said, falling back on the pillows, "she will not be so
utterly alone when I--" but he turned his face to the wall and stifled
the terrible word.
Jean shuddered. Suddenly he turned back again, and looking very
earnestly at the motherly woman beside him, he began:
"You will be good and generous to her all her life, will you not, Jean?
Spare her all the pain and care and trouble you can, poor little one,
she cannot bear much, cherish her always as you do to-day and she will
not be ungrateful. Remember that she was all I had in life: property,
riches and fame were as naught to me, except inasmuch as they were
conducive to her welfare. And now that I must give them all up--"
"Whatever can you mean, Henry Rayne, talking such nonsense; it is a
shame, you are the very one will bury us all yet."
He shook his head feebly. "No Jean, I will never see the spring-time,"
he said sadly. "Life is dear to me," he continued, "I would not now
renounce it if I need not, but there is an Almighty will to whose power
the mightiest mortal must yield without complaint. I have tasted life's
bitter and sweet for three-score years and more, and I must not grumble
now when I am called to leave down my weapons and tools. Other hands
must tackle the unfinished task, my share is completed."
"You are depressed in spirits to-day," said Jean d'Alberg consolingly,
"the sun has gone down, and the darkness always makes you feel blue, but
to-morrow you will have abandoned these gloomy reflections."
"I will never abandon them now, until they be realised facts to me," he
interrupted wearily--then in a low soliloquy he rambled on, "oh, Honor,
Honor! it is only you who beckon me back from the road to eternity, and
poor weak mortal that I am, I sigh for you, in preference to the bright
promises of a land, where I can benefit you more than I ever could
here;" then addressing Jean again, he said, "will you tell Honor that I
will speak a few serious words with her in the morning--you can tell her
too, for fear she would be surprised, that Vivian will be present at the
"I will Henry," Jean d'Alberg answered quietly, rising to prepare the
invalid's drinks. As the darkness crept down over the cold, dark
streets, Mr Rayne swallowed his evening remedies and retired for the
As soon as her charge was snugly gathered into bed, Jean d'Alberg,
leaving Fitts in his dressing-room, went quietly in search of Honor. She
found her sitting on a low stool, before the grate in the sitting-room,
with her elbows resting on her knees and her head buried in both hands.
stealing behind her she drew back the bowed head, and looked into the
"Tears!" she said in amazement, "why are you in tears, my darling?"
"Don't think me weak and foolish, dear aunt Jean," Honor said, trying to
laugh it off, "but I was thinking if Mr. Rayne, as I sat here alone, and
with the thoughts, the tears came."
Jean looked more serious, than Honor had hoped to see her as she said.
"Well, my dear, trouble comes to the best of us, some time in life. If
you hadn't it now, you would have it later, and it makes a less painful
and durable impression on the heart while it is young."
"But, dear aunt Jean," faltered the girl, looking imploringly into the
elder woman's face, "do you really think that Mr. Rayne is _seriously_
ill, I mean--" and as the tears flooded her eyes, Jean d'Alberg kissed
her fondly and answered,
"My dear little girl, he is in God's hands, could he be in better?
Whatever is best for him, that kind Father will give to him, let us hope
and pray--I have just come to you with a message from him--"
"Oh! what is it?" Honor interrupted eagerly.
"He merely said, that he wanted to speak a few words to you in the
morning," she said unpretendingly, then going towards the door, she
looked over her shoulder, and added, in such an artful, careless tone,
"and Vivian Standish will be there too, I understand."
The light in the room was dim and subdued, or Jean d'Alberg would have
noticed a strange expression flit across Honor's face at the mention of
this news, but the turned down light protected her.
Jean d'Alberg had undergone a wonderful transformation since the day on
which she took up her residence in Henry Rayne's house. A little
susceptibility was yet flickering, at that time, in the heart that had
grown so hardened and selfish, and she had brought it to a spot, where
such lingering propensities were easily fanned by every passing
circumstance, fanned and fed, until the broad flame was forced to burst
out afresh, and consume the harshness and bitterness that had once dwelt
with them. Her former virtues budded now anew into a second childhood,
adorning her advancing years with gentle, lovable, womanly attributes,
that endeared her to every one she knew, and rendered her indispensable
to Honor who had learned to find in her all the qualities of a kind,
Thinking this message that she had just brought Honor needed
consideration, Aunt Jean very properly made a trifling excuse to leave
the room, much to the distracted girl's relief and satisfaction.