Part 3 out of 9
Claude Bainrothe than at this moment. If I can serve him in any way, but
one, he may always command me. Let him go for the present to Copenhagen,
I implore you; it will be best for him--for all of us. He will know his
own mind better then, than he can now. When he returns, I would like to
see him happy. I doubt if he will be so, if he remains here," I
faltered; "I should dislike, very much, to see him make shipwreck of his
happiness." I hesitated, choked again. "I acknowledge--"
"You have cut him off, Miriam, that is plain, for the present, at
least," he interrupted. "Yet you speak in enigmas; but, if he be the man
I think he is, he will make all clear to you at last, for I am sure he
is incapable of any act radically wrong, and is the soul of chivalrous
honor; always ready to repair a folly, and avoid it in future. The very
best fellow living."
I had never seen Mr. Bainrothe so moved before as he now certainly was.
The glitter of a tear was in his mottled eye, and it stirred me
strangely. It was as if a snake should weep, and what in Nature could be
more affecting than such a spectacle? Or, rather, what _out_ of Nature?
There must have been, despite this tender showing, an outbreak of some
sort between father and son from the time of this call and the next
visit of Mr. Bainrothe, which occurred some days later.
The expression of concentrated rage on his face was unmistakable on this
occasion. Its usually placid, polished expression was laid aside, for
one of unqualified displeasure. He was pale as marble too, which was a
sign of excitement with him, with his complexion, usually clear and
"Again I come to you, Miriam," he said, "and this time with his
permission to mediate between you and my unhappy son. Believe me, you
attach too much consequence to hasty and half-comprehended expressions,
uttered, as he avers, to appease the offended vanity of an angry and
implacable--ay, and dangerous woman. There are few things a man will not
say for such a purpose. He went too far in his anxiety to conciliate
malice, and allay an evil temper. This is all that can be imputed to
him. Be reasonable, my dear girl! you are alone in the world; we are
your truest friends. It shall be our study--mine, as well as his--to
guard your life from every care, every anxiety even--precaution so
necessary in your case, and with your peculiar constitution. You love my
son, or have loved him--in this I could not be mistaken--and his
affection for you is sincere and unaffected, despite the concessions a
designing woman, who conceives herself slighted, has wrung from his
unwary lips, on purpose to mar his prospects, and blight your happiness,
I well believe."
"No, no, there was no design of this kind on her part, of that I am
sure. She could not--did not know that I overheard them. You must do her
justice there--I trust she may never know it. Claude promised me--"
"I know, I know--it was with this understanding," he interrupted, "that
he confided to me the extent of his indiscretion, for which I have rated
him soundly, I assure you. Evelyn is not to know that you overheard
them. This is the compact--a very sensible and politic one on your part,
under the circumstances, for Evelyn, we all know, is, excuse me my dear,
the devil, when fairly aroused. Now, as to this overhearing of
yours--might not your mind, laboring under recent coma, and a sort of
mental mirage as it were, have had a tendency to magnify and only
partially comprehend the conversation thus suddenly forced upon your
attention? For I understand you were unable to make yourself heard at
all, or even to give signs of life when the curtains of your bed were
lifted by the interlocutors."
"This last is true--but that I could not have been mistaken, Claude's
own admissions confirm. He denied nothing that I suggested--much was
left by me unquestioned."
"Yes," catching wildly at this straw, "he finds himself quite in the
dark still, I perceive--as to the accusations brought against him;
suppose you make your charges one by one, as it were in the shape of
"There are no charges, no accusations brought--nothing of that sort," I
said, proudly; "and I must entreat that from this hour, Mr. Bainrothe,
this subject be dropped between us utterly. It is wholly unprofitable,
"You are a person of extraordinary obduracy," he said, "for one of your
years. I should like to know how much the Stanbury influence has had to
do with strengthening your unwise, unamiable, and stiff-necked
resolution! If I were Claude Bainrothe, I should lay heavy damages
against you in the courts of law, for your unjustifiable evasion of a
formal contract--one your father sanctioned, one of which all your
friends are and were cognizant and proud, and which has subjected him,
in its rupture, to so much distress and mortification; nay, even as I
can prove, pecuniary loss."
"If _money_ can repay your son Claude, for any wrong I have done him, he
is welcome to a portion of mine," I said, deeply disgusted, "without
intervention of law--painful exposure of any kind. I cherish for him,
however, even yet, too much regard and respect to believe him capable of
such proceedings. The idea is worthy of the mind it springs from--worthy
of the author of all this sorrow and confusion--worthy of Mr. Basil
Bainrothe, the arch-conspirator himself."
He turned upon me with clinched hands and blazing eyes. "You shall
answer for these words, girl! if not now, years hence," he said; "the
seed of your insult has been thrown on fertile soil, I promise you!" and
he laughed bitterly.
"I do not fear you," I replied; all disguise was thrown off--it was war
to the knife between us now; "never have--never can, in spite of your
unmanly threats. Evelyn must protect me henceforth from any further
contact with you, however, until I am of age to take in hand my own
affairs; Evelyn Erie, my guardian, and your fellow-executor, owes me
this safeguard. I trust, Mr. Bainrothe, we shall meet no more."
I left the room--left him in possession of the library, in which he
paced up and down for an hour or more, like a caged panther. There was a
sealed note for me in his handwriting, under the massive paper-weight on
the table, when I entered it again, which he had written and left there
before his departure. It ran thus--for I read it derisively, and
remember its contents still:
"We have both been wrong, dear Miriam. I, as the elder and more
experienced offender--therefore, the more responsible one--claim it as
my privilege to be the first to atone. I cannot think, from what I know
of you, that you will be long in following my example. Let us forgive
one another. Fate has thrown us together, and we must not afford a
malicious world the spectacle of our inconsistency, or the satisfaction
of seeing us quarrel, after so many years of harmony.
"As to Claude, you and he must settle your own matters. I wash my hands
of the whole transaction from this hour, supposing that common-sense
will triumph at last, and reconcile your differences.
"Yours as ever, truly and devotedly,
I did not answer this note--I could not discreetly, although I tried to
do so several times. I could not conquer sufficiently my deep disgust of
his insupportable behavior to respond kindly, at that time, to any
overture of Mr. Bainrothe's, nor did I wish to write one rude word to
him in connection with so delicate a subject as that of our late
He came no more until after Evelyn's return, and then only on necessary
business; inquiring for her alone, and holding on such occasions secret
conclaves with her invariably in the library. Whenever we met casually,
however, whether in the street or my own house, he was polite and easy
in his deportment, even gracious.
With Claude it was otherwise; he avoided me sedulously, and, although I
have reason to think he met and joined Evelyn frequently, and even by
appointment in her long walks, he never called to see her or paid her
open attentions. Yet I found that he had followed my counsels.
A day or two before he sailed for Copenhagen to join the legation in
Denmark, an exception to this rule of avoidance was made by both father
and son, who came in as had been usual with them in other days,
informally, in the evening.
This was Claude's farewell visit--a very unpleasant necessity evidently
on his part. I was unconstrained in the cordiality with which I received
both his father and himself--for it was heart-felt on this occasion. Old
feelings came back to me so vividly that night, and my own dear father
seemed so visibly recalled by the presence once more of our unbroken
circle, that I lost sight, for a season, of my wrongs and sufferings in
the memory of the past, and broke temporarily through the cloud that
oppressed me and dimmed my existence.
I saw Mr. Bainrothe gazing at me several times, in the course of his
visit, with an expression of interest and surprise.
He had expected very different manifestations, no doubt, and he told
Evelyn afterward that "no woman of thirty could have carried off matters
with a higher hand than did that chit of sixteen, Miriam Monfort."
"All that talk of yours, Miriam, about 'Hamlet,' 'Elsinore,'
'Wittenberg,' and the 'fiery Dane,' probably imposed on those two
unsophisticated men; but I saw through the whole proceeding; you were
afraid of yourself, my dear, that was evident, and ashamed, as you ought
to have been, of your capricious conduct to poor Claude, who shows,
however, as uncompromising a spirit as your own, I perceive. What _was_
the matter, Miriam? I can get nothing out of him, and I have waited,
until my patience is exhausted, for a voluntary communication from you."
"Why have you not asked me before, Evelyn?" I questioned, calmly, in
reply. "You have shown more than your usual forbearance, on this
"My dear child, 'Least said is soonest mended,' is proverbial in
quarrels of all kinds. I have no wish to pry or play mischief-maker,
and, if Mr. Basil Bainrothe with his diplomatic talents could do nothing
to mend the difficulty, I had no right to suppose that I could succeed
better, with my very direct, straightforward disposition."
"You were right, Evelyn, certainly, in your conclusion, and, if you
please, will never ask for any explanation of the breach between Claude
and myself. It is irrevocable; but I am sorry to see him so resentful.
He cannot conceal his displeasure against me, and yet I have never
offended him willingly, I am sure."
"Caprice and coquetry are not so lightly estimated by every one, as you
hold them, nor yet counted causes for gratitude by most men, let me
assure you, Miriam."
"Who has accused me of these?" I questioned, with a flashing eye, a
"Does your own heart acquit you?" she asked, evasively.
"It does," I answered, solemnly, "as does the God who reads all hearts,
and to whom I am now alone answerable for any motives of mine."
"Since when have you grown so independent, Miriam?" she asked,
"Since the death of my father," I replied.
"Ah! you do not accredit delegated allegiance it seems," turning her
"Not as far as my own feelings and their sources are concerned. As to my
acts, I hope never to commit one of which all just men might not
"We shall see. However, a year more or less makes little difference.
Claude Bainrothe, improved, will return within a year, probably, and all
may still be well. Matters will then, I fancy, be in his own hands,
"All _is_ well, Evelyn, if you could only think so, and now, once for
all, make up your mind, definitely, to let _well_ alone, for I must not
be approached again on this subject, I warn you!"
I spoke with a decision which, at times, had its effect even on the
"indomitable Evelyn," as my father often had called her, playfully, and
again the broken engagement was consigned to silence.
Yet on my mind, my feelings, the effect of this severe and sudden trial
was far more bitter and profound than met the outward eye.
I had been sustained at first by a sense of pride, self-respect, and
womanly indignation, that prevented me from feeling the whole extent of
the wound I had received; but with reaction came that dull, dumb, aching
of the heart, which all who have felt it may recognize as more wearing
than keener pain, or more declared suffering.
I suppose the Spartan who felt the gnawing of the hidden fox was a mere
type of this species of anguish, which reproduces itself wherever
wounded pride underlies concealment, or wherever injustice and
ingratitude render us uncomplaining through a sense of moral dignity.
The first six months succeeding my rupture with Claude Bainrothe went
by like a leaden dream. My heart lay like a stone in my bosom, and the
gloss had dropped from life, and the glory from the face of Nature for
me, in that dreary interval, as though I had grown suddenly old.
In routine, in occupation alone, I found relief and companionship. I
compelled myself to teach Mabel, and pursue my own studies, lest my mind
should fall back on my body, and destroy both.
A nervous peculiarity manifested itself about this time, that was
singularly distressing to me, and which I confided to no one, not even
that excellent physician who kept a quiet and observant eye fixed upon
me during all this period of my probation.
I became nervously but not mentally convinced of the want of substance
in every thing around me, and have repeatedly risen and crossed the
room, and touched an article on the opposite side, to compel my better
judgment to the conviction that it was indeed tangible and substantial,
and not the merest shadow of a shade.
I was sustained in my resolution to conquer this besetting weakness,
from a vague horror and fear that, should I suffer it to gain further
ascendency, I might fall back into habitual lethargies, and, remembering
what Dr. Pemberton had said, I was determined, if possible, to throw off
that incubus of my being, by the strength of my own will, aided by God's
There were no uttered prayers to this effect, that I remember, but an
unceasing cry for strength, for light, went up from my heart, as
continuously as the waters of a fountain, to the ear of my Creator. I
have thought sometimes that, in this persistent wrestle of mind with
matter, enduring so many weeks and months, so many weary, woful days
and sleepless nights, the physical demon was exorcised at last, that had
ruled my life so long, or was reduced to feeble efforts thereafter.
Once when Dr. Pemberton's attendance had been necessary to me, during a
severe spell of pleurisy, he said when I was recovering: "There is some
favorable change at work in your constitution, Miriam, it seems to me.
We hear no more of the 'obliteration spells,'" for thus he called my
"Your drops have banished them, dear doctor, I suppose," I rejoined,
with a faint smile.
"They may have aided to do so," he said, gravely, "but I think I have
observed, Miriam, that you were doing good work lately for yourself. You
have been struggling manfully, my little girl. Now, I am going for
recreation to Magara, and the Northern cities, for a few weeks, next
month, and I want you to go with me, in aid of this effort of yours.
Quite alone, with Charity as sole attendant. My niece will be with me--a
good, quiet girl, you know, some years older than yourself, and also in
feeble health; and I will see that you are both well taken care of,
medically at least, while you are absent. How would you like this,
Miriam," patting my shoulder, "just for a change?"
"Oh, very much!" I said, eagerly. "Yes, I will go gladly, in this quiet
way, for I do not wish to visit gay places, or to make strange
acquaintance, under the circumstances. My deep mourning must be
respected, you know, and--" I hesitated; looked in his kind,
sympathizing face; then hid mine on his shoulder--weeping. The first
tears of relief I had shed for months.
He did not check me, for he knew full well the value of this outlet of
feeling, to one situated as I was, physically as well as mentally.
"I would offer to take Mabel," he added, after a time, "were I not
solemnly convinced that it would be better for you both that she should
stay here. Mrs. Austin seems necessary to her very existence; and that
old woman is your vampire, I verily believe."
"No, no, she is very good, indeed. You are mistaken."
"No, I am not mistaken. There are persons who do sack away,
unconsciously, the very life of others, from some peculiarity of
organization in both. I have strong faith in this theory. I have been
obliged sometimes to decree the separation of wife and husband for a
time, to save the life of one or the other; of mother and child even.
Every time you fall ill, I believe Mrs. Austin gains strength and energy
at your expense. She absorbs your nervous fluid. It was from this
conviction that I requested you two years ago to change your room,
which, until then, she had shared on the pretence of your necessities,
and to substitute a younger and less sponge-like attendant. You remember
the stress I laid on this?"
"Yes, yes, one of your crotchets, dear doctor, nothing else. You are
full of such vagaries--always were--but there is not another such dear
old willful physician in Christendom for all that."
"Little flatterer! But here is a piece of cassava bread, I brought you,
as you thought you would like to taste it. My old West Indian patient
keeps me well supplied. I fancy to nibble it as I drive about in my
cabriolet, or whatever they call this French affair of mine."
"For a wonder, you have the word right;" and I laughed in his honest
"I am going to France, next spring, when the Stanburys go over, just to
see what strides medicine is making across the waters, and to rest
myself a little, improve my Gallic pronunciation, and get the fashions,
and I will take you as my interpreter, if you promise to be very good
and obedient in the interval."
"Oh, thank you; I would like it of all things. But what takes the
Stanburys abroad? I have heard nothing of this plan of theirs before."
"Pleasure and business combined, I believe. They will remain abroad some
years, for the education of George Gaston. What an idol Mrs. Stanbury is
making of that boy, to be sure, and Laura is just as foolish about him
as her mother! By-the-by, she is to be married, they say, to that young
Prussian nobleman, who was there so much last winter. I forget his
unpronounceable name. They will reside in Berlin, I understand, should
the marriage be '_unfait accompli_,' as the French have it. Is not that
"Oh, admirably pronounced! You are becoming quite a Gaul in your old
"I hope I shall never become gall and wormwood, in any event, like some
old folks. Now, is not that being literal, Miriam?"
"And witty, as well! You must have been associating with Dr. C----n,
"So you can't give me credit for a little originality, because my
facetious vein is new to you. Now, do your old friend justice, and
believe even in his puns; if not pungent, he is self-sustaining and
independent; but, remember, I count on you absolutely, next week. One
trunk apiece and no bandboxes or baskets. A green-silk travelling-bonnet
and pongee habit. This is my uniform, for my female guard. Carry Grey
knows my whims, and will observe them. By-the-by, you will like my
We made a delightful tour, which occupied the whole month of August, and
I came back refreshed, soul and body; as for Carry Grey, she revived,
like a plant that had been newly tended and watered after long neglect.
For the poor girl had been making a slave of herself for two years in
her widowed brother's household, consisting of many little children, and
needed repose from her multifarious duties.
He was going to marry again soon, she told me, and then she hoped to
feel at liberty to fulfill her own engagement of five years' standing.
Carry Grey was quite this many years over twenty-one, and was going to
emigrate with her husband to Missouri, and to settle in the thriving
young town of St. Louis, fast growing up then into a city. He was to
have a church there, and they might be so happy, she thought, if God
only smiled upon them! But all depended upon that.
It was a wholesome lesson to my morbid discontent and pride to hear what
trials she had surmounted already, and how many more she was ready to
She had once been engaged to a very brilliant young man, she told me,
but he was dissipated and careless of her feelings, and she let him go;
since that he had drifted fast to destruction, and sometimes she
reproached herself for not having held to him through thick and thin. It
was just possible she might have saved him, she thought, but her friends
had persuaded her that he would only drag her down, and so she broke
with him forever.
"Did he love you?" I asked, eagerly. "Were you sure that he was not
"Oh, I believe he was true to me--however false to himself."
"Then you were wrong," I said. "Wrong, believe me. Carry Grey! A woman
should bear every thing but infidelity of heart for the man she
"I am sorry to hear you say so," she replied, somewhat coldly. "There is
a great deal more than blind affection needful for a woman's happiness,
Miss Monfort--so experience tells us. What I mean is, perhaps he _might_
have reformed had I not broken with him; but it was the _merest_
chance--one too feeble to depend on; and I did wisely to discard him, I
"Forgive me! I did not mean to censure you," I said; "I was only
speaking generally--too generally, perhaps, for individual courtesy.
This is a theory of mine which as yet I have had no opportunity to put
in practice, for I have never been attached to a dissipated man." I
smiled. "I dare say I too should drop such a man like a pestilence."
"I hope so. But the best way is to avoid all intimacy with such men from
the first. You are very young. Let me give you my advice on this subject
before you form any attachment: keep your affections for a worthy
object, if you keep them locked up forever. Better be alone than
"This is to shut the cage after the bird has flown," I thought, sadly;
but I thanked her, and promised to profit by her good counsel.
We were fast friends ever after, and, when she went away to her distant
Western home, Carry Ormsby bore some memorials of her summer friend away
with her, in the shape of books, plate, and jewels, such as her simple
means could have ill afforded. I felt that I could not have devised any
means more sure to gratify her worthy uncle, to whom such gifts had been
dross. He was a widower--the father of sons--indifferent to show, and,
besides that, unwilling to incur obligations from any one, such as gifts
entail on some minds.
There are persons made to give and others to receive, and neither can do
the work of the other gracefully. He and I were both of the same order,
so we accorded perfectly.
The autumn and winter passed very quietly. In Mrs. Stanbury and Laura I
again found my chief consolation. George Gaston was in the South, for
his health, on his own decayed plantation, with his uncle, who took
charge of it. But, in the spring, as Dr. Pemberton had stated, they were
all to go to Europe for some years. Laura would be married in Paris, if
at all. Every thing depended on some investigations Mr. Gerald Stanbury
was to make in person as to the character and position of her betrothed.
"For a Prussian nobleman may be a Prussian boot-black for aught I know,"
he observed, "and without derogation to his dignity, no doubt, in that
land of pipes and fiddlers. But an American sovereign requires something
better than that when he gives away the hand of the princess, his
relative, and endows her with a goodly dowry. Every man, we feel, is a
king in America."
Our circle of society was much enlarged by Evelyn after our first year
of mourning had expired. She insisted on taking me with her in turn to
Washington, Boston, and Saratoga Springs, then at their acme of fashion.
Mr. Bainrothe, who had by this time glided back into his old grooves of
apparent sociability in our household, accompanied us, and did all in
his power, it seemed, to promote our enjoyment and success.
Yet it was astonishing what an icy barrier still remained between us
two, and how perfectly I managed, without a conscious effort, to set a
limit to his approaches, even while treating him with apparent courtesy
Something in his eye, his manner, had become extremely unpleasant to me
since our social relations had been resumed. There was a controlled
ardor in his expression of face and even in his demeanor that I could
not reconcile with his position toward me nor understand, and yet which
froze my blood in spite of my best endeavors to repel the thoughts
"I am very morbid and fanciful, certainly," I said to myself, "even to
think such a thing possible. At his age, and knowing full well my
opinion of him, my sentiments toward him--he surely would not dare--!" I
could not even in my own heart finish out a conjecture that dyed my face
and throat crimson, or mahogany-color, as Evelyn would have averred
contemptuously could she have witnessed my solitary confusion.
"I have clung to him too much," I thought; "it is my own fault if he
throws too much of the tone of tenderness in his manner, when,
distasteful as he is to me, his arm, his protection, have seemed to me
preferable to those of a stranger, and I have accepted them merely to
avoid the advances of others.
"I am not in the mood to be sentimental, or susceptible either, after my
bitter experience, and the idea he so carefully instills is ever present
to me--strive as I will to repel it--the thought that I am sought
alone for my fortune!
"Yet I am not wholly unattractive, probably, though less beautiful than
Evelyn. But what, after all, is beauty? Plainer women than I are loved
and sought in marriage, who possess no gift of fortune or
"Why should I suffer him to fill my mind with suspicions that embitter
it against all approaches? Why should I seal my soul away in endless
gloom, because one man, out of all Adam's race, was faithless and
Thus reasoning, I gained strength and self-reliance to receive other
attentions and mingle with the multitude. Nor should I have known to
what extent Mr. Bainrothe had carried his injustice and perfidy toward
me, but for the loquacity of Lieutenant Raymond, a young adorer of mine,
who revealed to me, the very evening before I left Saratoga, along with
his passion--a hopeless one of course, which, but for this connection,
would not be noted here--the strategic course of my guardian.
"I ought to have been warned, by what I saw and heard, that my suit was
a hopeless one," he said; "I had been told of your engagement, but could
not believe it possible, although confirmed by Mr. Bainrothe's manner. A
rival of his age and experience, possessed too of such physical
attractions, and such charm of manner, seldom fails to carry the day
over a raw, impulsive youth--who can only adore--bow down and worship
his idol, and who possesses no arts of conquest."
"Pause there, Lieutenant Raymond; of what are you speaking?" I asked,
coldly; "you have probably confounded matters, names, and--"
"No, no, it is all too evident now to admit of a doubt I You are
affianced to Mr. Bainrothe--your own timid and dependent manner might
have enlightened me long ago, as well as his devoted one--but a man in
love is blinder than the blindest bat even! He is the maddest fool
certainly! Forgive me for my presumption, and forget it if you can;"
and he turned away, smiting his brow impatiently.
I laid my hand on his arm--I drew it down from his face again, which he
turned upon me with an expression of surprise. I felt that I was pale
with rage and scorn as he looked at me. He misunderstood my feelings
evidently, for he said, earnestly: "I am sorry to have caused you so
much pain, Miss Monfort! I was premature, I have been indiscreet in my
remarks. Your engagement is surely no concern of mine. I should have
confined myself to my own disappointment exclusively, and respected your
reserve;" adding, "I beg that you will pardon and look less angrily upon
me, in this our parting."
"I am not offended with you, Mr. Raymond." (His boyish passion had,
indeed, swept over me as lightly as the wing of a butterfly across a
rose. I felt that it amounted to nothing but pastime on either hand--a
careless throw of the dice on his part, that might, or might not, have
resulted to his advantage. He probably staked but little feeling in the
enterprise--I certainly none at all.)--"I am not angry with you,
Lieutenant Raymond, nay, grateful rather for your impulsive homage,
which I regret not to be able to reward as you deserve; but this you
must tell me, as a true, as an honorable man, if you care one iota for
my regard, or the cause of truth and justice: what has that man been
saying about me?" And I laid my hand upon his arm and shook it slightly.
"What man, Miss Monfort? I--I, scarcely understand you! You surely do
not mean Mr. Bainrothe--your--"
"Guardian, nothing more, scarcely that," I interrupted, almost fiercely;
thus finishing out his sentence as he probably might not have done.
"Answer me truthfully, honorably, as you are a gentleman, has he
propagated this vile slander, for as such I feel it, and as such shall
"I do, do--not know positively--but I have reason to think that, either
directly or indirectly, the rumor comes from him. You know some men have
a way of insinuating things. I--I--cannot recall any thing positive or
definite. I cannot, indeed. He never spoke to me on the subject at all.
There was only an expression at times, as he bore you off, that seemed
to tell me that all my efforts to win you were vain. I can't see why you
lay such stress on the matter at all, Miss Monfort."
He had evidently the gentleman's true reluctance to make mischief.
"Lieutenant Raymond, I simply dislike to be placed in a false position,
or grossly misinterpreted or misrepresented. Do you see that unfortunate
person there?" I asked suddenly, "with his head drawn completely to one
side, and his arms and legs swathed in flannel bandages, hobbling feebly
along, followed by a youth (a relation, probably, bearing a camp-stool)
and a dingy little terrier-dog, on his way to the pool of Bethesda?" As
if he knew that he was the object of our attention, the man alluded to
stopped, and turned just then a face grotesquely hideous in our
direction, and, seeing me, smiled, and nodded feebly--disclosing, as he
did so, long, fang-like teeth, yellow, as if cut from lemon-rind, and
"You have the oddest acquaintance, Miss Monfort, for a young lady of
fashion, certainly! This old man keeps a little one-horse book-store
somewhere, I am told, and makes it his constant theme of conversation."
"Yes, he has his hobby, like more distinguished men. I have known him
from my childhood, however, and esteem him truly. He kept the choicest
collection of children's books I ever saw in former days, and was a
child at heart himself, and an especial crony of mine. But I have other
reasons for asking you to remark him now. He is old, diseased, and poor;
yet, just as good and honorable as he is, I would rather put my hand in
his as betrothed or married a thousand-fold, than become the wife of
Basil Bainrothe. Repeat this, if you please, whenever you hear this very
unpleasant and absurd report and subject agitated. It will be a simple
act of justice to me, and a tribute to truth, such as I am sure you will
be pleased to render and illustrate."
"I will do so," he said, quietly; "but I confess, you surprise me. I
have always refused to give credit to the matter myself, blinded, I was
assured, by my own impetuosity, but I acknowledge this engagement is
very generally canvassed and believed at Saratoga; nor has Miss Erie in
any instance refuted the impression. Of this I am quite certain, and
deem it my duty now to tell you so."
"Is it possible," I thought, "that this can be one of Evelyn's subtle
schemes, reacting on Mr. Bainrothe? The father for me, the son for
herself! My God! the grave would be preferable to me, to marriage with
either one or the other, the loathed or the loathing! O papa, papa! why
was I ever placed in hands like these? It must be so sweet, so
delightful, to trust and love one's associates, whether natural or
accidental! I feel as if Fate had raised up for me this band of mocking
fiends, to guard me from my kind, and mar my happiness. Day by day I
hate and distrust them more and more--nay, learn to tremble through them
"You are silent. Miss Monfort," he said; "will you not bid me a kind, a
"Oh, surely, Mr. Raymond; and let me beg that, when you are near me, you
will come freely to my house. I shall be most happy to entertain you."
And I gave him my hand, frankly.
"One word more, Miss Monfort. Are you engaged to any other and more
fortunate man than Mr. Bainrothe and myself? Is it for another's sake
you have felt so very indignant? Forgive a sailor's frankness, and a
sailor's interest, even if bestowed in vain. I fear you will add to
these, a sailor's undue curiosity."
"No, Mr. Raymond, neither engaged nor likely to be. But hinge no hope on
this declaration of mine. I am probably destined to walk through life
alone, and, like many better women, to live for the good of others, in
self-defense, if for good at all. I shall never marry, Lieutenant
The hand that held mine, trembled slightly, relaxed, relinquished its
eager hold, and fell listlessly to his side. He believed me, evidently,
as I believed myself.
"I have loved you," he said, hoarsely, "far more than you will ever
understand. Do not forget me!"
"That is scarcely probable," I murmured; "but we shall meet again," and
I spoke cheerfully and aloud, "and under happier auspices, I trust. The
world is fair before you, Mr. Raymond; this much let me counsel, and the
counsel is drawn from experience: do not surrender your freedom too
lightly--it is a precious gift to man or woman, and those who drag
broken fetters wear woful hearts. Farewell!"
We left Saratoga on the following day. It was autumn when we reached our
home again--sad and strange September--my birth-month, and the grave of
many hopes. Mabel was well, and finely grown for a child of her years;
and the joy of seeing her, and holding her to my heart again, made me
oblivious of all else for a season. After our brief separation even, her
loveliness struck me afresh. How beautiful she was! not with the white
radiance of Evelyn, but lovely as a young May rose, blushing among its
leaves and peerless in grace, sweetness, and expression. She had her
sainted mother's great blue, soulful eyes, with finer features and more
brilliant coloring, and her father's gleaming teeth and clustering hair,
"brown in the shadow, gold in the sun," falling, like his, over a brow
of sculptured ivory. I was not alone in my appreciation of her
loveliness. It was a theme of universal remark. Even Mr. Bainrothe, who
could never forgive my father for having married his children's
governess, confessed that she had the "air noble," which he valued far
above beauty. "And where she got it from, Miriam, is sufficiently
plain," he said, one day, glancing at me with undisguised admiration as
he spoke. "Her mother was simple and unpretending enough, Heaven above
knows, but you Monforts, and you, especially, Miriam, are truly
_distingue_, which is a word that cannot often be justly applied in any
land to man or woman either."
"By-the-by, Miriam," he continued, "you are growing into a very
beautiful woman, after a somewhat unpromising childhood. You surpass
Evelyn as rubies do garnets, or diamonds _aqua marine_, or sapphires the
opaque turquoise. You do, indeed, my dear," and he attempted to take my
hand in the old fashion. I murmured something indicative of my
"It is an exquisite hand!" he remarked, as I coldly drew it away; "I
have an artist's eye, and can admire beauty in the abstract, even though
I am an old man, you know."
"Admire it also at a distance, I beg, hereafter," I said, bowing coldly,
smiling very bitterly, I fear, with lips white with anger and disgust.
"Those scars, Miriam!" he went on, as if unobservant of my manner, yet
with the old sarcastic gleam in his eyes, in the most audacious way,
"have nearly disappeared, have they not? I think I understood so from
Dr. Pemberton. Let me see that on your arm, my dear," and he extended
his hand to grasp it.
"They are indelible, Mr. Bainrothe," I replied, folding my arms tightly
above my heart, "as are some other impressions; never allude to them
again, I request you. It offends me." And I left him, coldly and
I give this little scene only as a specimen of his occasional behavior
at this period, and of the humiliation to which his presence so often
subjected me. But matters had not yet culminated.
Evelyn's fortune and Mabel's were, like much of my own, invested in the
Bank of Pennsylvania, and deemed secure in that gigantic bubble. At
twenty-three Evelyn, of course, consulted no one as to the disposition
of her income, which she spent freely and magnificently on herself
alone. Her jewels, silks, laces, were of the finest quality and fabric;
she drove a peerless little equipage, had her own ponies and tiger and
maid; travelled frequently, entertained splendidly, though this last, it
must be confessed, was not at her expense, if redounding to her credit.
To her my father had decreed the first position in his household until
my marriage (with her sanction) or majority should occur, and she kept
it bravely. She possessed a leading spirit, and loved to rule whether by
right or sufferance. Lovers she had in plenty; suitors, such as they
were, manifold; yet she preferred so far her single estate to aught that
could be or had been offered. I began to think that her constancy
deserved to be rewarded, and to withdraw on such score the objection I
had felt so strong in the outset against her union with Claude
He had been already more than a year in Copenhagen when I discovered how
it was between them, or rather thought I had done so, from seeing one
night when she came into my room in her night-dress, which was
accidentally parted at the bosom, the betrothal-ring, so peculiar as not
readily to be mistaken, which Claude Bainrothe had once given to me,
suspended from the button of her chemisette by a small gold chain, so as
to lie constantly against her heart. How her pride had ever stooped to
receive and wear the pledge originally given to another it was difficult
for me to conceive, and little less bitter, I confess, at first to know.
I thought all care was over as to Claude Bainrothe and his affairs, but
a qualm of anguish surged through my whole being, the dying throe, I
well believe, of trust and affection, when I beheld this
As Evelyn raised her hand to fasten her night-robe, through the
accidental opening of which I had caught sight of my repudiated
treasure, I noticed on one of her slender fingers, from which all other
incumbrances in the way of rings had been removed for the night, a
circlet of plain gold such as is generally used for the symbol of the
marriage-rite, an engagement-ring, I then supposed it.
"Let me see your wedding-ring, Evelyn," I said, laughingly, to conceal
my embarrassment. She colored slightly.
"What, that little affair of a philopoena?" she rejoined. "Oh, I
promised not to take it off until certain things were accomplished, nor
to tell the name of the giver either, so don't question about it, 'an
you love me, Hal!'"
"Was it sent from beyond the seas?" I questioned, seriously, "I shall
ask nothing more."
"What an idea! No, on my honor, it was not. There! I will not tell you
another word about it, so don't bore me, Miriam. I thought you,
yourself, despised a catechist, and undue curiosity. What I came here,
to-night, for, was not to be catechised, or 'put to the question,' but
to ask a favor which you must grant, dear prophetess, whether you will
or no. Now, don't refuse your Eva," and she kissed me affectionately; "I
am going to give a grand fancy ball, or rather, _we_ are, the same thing
of course, and I want you to lay off your deep mourning for a time"
(hers had been already entirely put aside), "and appear as night. You
can still wear black, you know; I shall be Morning, and Mabel, Hesper.
Now, won't it be a lovely idea? Hesper, you know, is both morning and
evening star, and can hover between us, bearing a torch, and dressed _a
la Grecque_. Is not that appropriate--our little link of sisterhood? It
cannot fail to make an impression. I consider it, myself, a capital
idea. You can wear your mother's diamonds at last, which Mr. Bainrothe
means to hand over to you to-morrow as your birthday gift--not that,
exactly, either," seeing my rising scorn, "but as a token of respect
suitable for the occasion. He might hold on to them two years longer you
know, legally," she added, carelessly.
"He is very magnanimous," I remarked, coldly; "I shall be glad to have
my diamonds though, in my own possession, I acknowledge, but why does he
make any parade about it at all? They are mine all the same, whether in
his hands or my own. Every thing that man does seems theatrical and
affected to me!"
"I thought you were beginning to incline very favorably to Cagliostro! I
am sure this was the opinion of all who saw you together at Saratoga,
and I believe, between ourselves, it is his own."
"Evelyn Erie, you know better than this! People, of themselves, would
never have dreamed of such a thing, and he, too, knows my sentiments
thoroughly. He only feigns ignorance."
"My dear, dear girl! worse things than this have been said frequently,
and stranger ones have come to pass. Mr. Bainrothe is certainly a
splendid financier, that was your own father's opinion. You will never
marry any man who will take better care of your money, and that is a
consideration with you, or ought to be, Miriam. Your estate is your
chief distinction, child, if you only knew it; besides, with a knowledge
of your constitutional malady, you should be very careful what hands you
fall into. No woman that I know of demands such peculiar care and
tenderness from a husband, nor such choice in her surroundings. After
all, Mr. Bainrothe is still a very handsome man, and admirably well
preserved if not exactly young; he does not look forty, he has not a
gray hair, a false tooth, nor a wrinkle."
"Have you done, Evelyn Erie?" I asked, almost ferociously. "Have you
completed your catalogue of insult? Then listen, in turn, to my counsel.
Marry him yourself by all means; he would suit you, body and soul, far
better than me. Indeed, I have never seen any one else who seemed so
thoroughly your counterpart, match and mate, as Cagliostro!"
"Thank you," she said, furiously; "if I thought you were in
earnest"--here she hesitated, clinching her hand, and biting her white
"I am in earnest," I rejoined, quietly; "what then?" and I looked
coldly, resolutely in her face.
"Why I would perhaps marry the son, just to correct your fallacious idea
about the father, that is all! This course is shut out from you,
however, entirely, by your own folly, so _you_ must take what you can
get now, for Claude Bainrothe, let me assure you, is lost to you
forever." And she went out, smiling triumphantly.
I suspected from that hour what I knew later, and I had suffered the
last pang to agonize my heart that my broken troth should ever cost me.
The corpse of my dead love had bled at the touch of its murderer, in
accordance with ancient superstition. Now, calm and quiet oblivion and
the sepulchre should surround and enshroud it forever more.
I think I kept my determination bravely from that hour, but others must
judge of this for me. We are not gods, to say to the tide of feeling,
"Thus far, and no farther shalt thou come." We are only mortal Canutes
at best, to lift back our chairs as the tide advances, and seat
ourselves securely thereon beyond the surf. We all remember how it fared
with the quaint old monarch and moralist when he tried the plan of the
immortals, and commanded the sea to obey him--we perish if we arrogate
too much when the surges sweep around us; but we can, we must avoid them
if we hope to escape their force, and plant ourselves beyond them firmly
on the shore.
Evelyn's fancy ball was a magnificent affair, and a complete success, as
the word goes. She chose to call it my _debut_ party, but I never felt
that it was so, or that I was more than any other guest. I would not
have chosen a fancy dress for my first appearance, and she certainly was
the queen of the occasion.
She was dressed as Aurora, in exquisite, fleecy gauze draperies of
white, azure, and rose color, so artistically arranged as irresistibly
to remind the observer of those delicate, transparent tints of morning
that greet the rising sun. On her brow was a diadem of opals and
diamonds arranged in a crescent form, from beneath which, her fleecy
white veil flowed backward to the hem of her garments like a mist of the
early day-spring; a rosy exhalation of the dawn enveloping but not
obscuring the radiance of her raiment, over which dew-drops seemed to
have been shed by the lavish hand of wakening Nature.
Her face, so fair as to gain from this marble-like radiance its chief
characteristic, was delicately tinted to-night on either cheek so as to
emulate the early blushes of Aurora. Her colorless hair, of a tint so
neutral as to defy description, curling in light spiral ringlets so as
to drop profusely on her bosom, had been richly powdered with gold-dust
for this occasion, and glistened like the sunlight, or, to fall in my
comparison, the tresses of Lucretia Borgia, as her historians portray
Nothing could be more refined, more refulgent, more ethereal, than her
whole appearance, nor had I ever seen the light-blue eyes so clear and
brilliant, the thin, writhing lips so scarlet and smiling, the pearly
teeth so glistening by contrast with the first, as on this occasion.
Her arms and neck, which wanted contour, and yet were of snowy
whiteness, were skillfully draped in her many-colored robe so as to
cover all defects; and a chaplet of pearls, mingled with diamonds,
concealed the slight prominence of the collar-bones, and descended low
on the white and well-veiled bosom. Every eye was turned on her with
admiration, and the low murmur that followed her through the halls she
trod so proudly, proclaimed her triumph far more loudly than more open
flattery could have done.
"You, too, look well to-night, in your black-velvet robe and diamonds,
Miriam, better than I have ever seen you!" said a low voice in my ear,
as I echoed the passing praises lavished on Evelyn's beauty by one of
her admirers. "It is scarcely a fancy costume though, after all."
"Thank you, Mr. Bainrothe," I replied coldly. "For reasons of my own, I
have preferred to make my costume as subdued as possible."
"By Jove! I wish our young exile could see you this evening," he went
on, disregardful of my brief explanation. "He would strew his hair with
ashes, and wear sackcloth in penance for the past, I doubt not; for I
tell you frankly, Miriam, you have improved wonderfully of late, and you
bear inspection far better than Evelyn with all her beauty; your figure
is absolutely faultless; your face the most attractive woman ever wore,
if not the most absolutely regular. I tell you simple truths. I am a
disinterested critic, you see, and stand apart gazing upon women simply
as specimens. Your hands and feet are models, your smile enchanting,
your voice musical, your manner witchery itself, when you choose to let
out your nature; what more could heart desire?" and he gazed steadily in
my face, insolently I felt it!
I had been listening indignantly to this cool summary of my attractions,
and the arrogant idea manifestly uppermost, that Sultan Claude Bainrothe
had only to appear on the scene, and throw his handkerchief, for me to
succumb, and I had been so confounded by this tirade of compliment and
commonplace that I scarcely knew how to stay its tide without absolute
rudeness, such as no lady should ever be guilty of--when he coolly
continued his remarks as if wholly unobservant of my displeasure.
"Evelyn, with all her arts, is a little faded already; don't you see it,
Miriam? There is no corrosive poison equal to envy, and that, by-the-by,
is her specialty. She is bitterly envious by nature. Most of those
thin-lipped, sharp-elbowed, sharp-nosed women are, if you observe.
Faded at twenty-three! Sad, but true of half our American morning-glory
beauties. For my part, I love the statuesque in women, the enduring!
those exquisitely-moulded proportions on which the gaze reposes with
such delight, and that set a man to dreaming, whether he will or not."
And his eye dwelt on me from throat to waist in a manner that made my
flesh crawl as if the worms that tortured Herod were passing over it. At
this point I rebelled--I ground my teeth resolutely--my face flushed to
the temples--I could willingly have stricken that audacious scrutinizer
in the face with my clinched hand, and he knew it! How coarse coarseness
makes us, even when most disinclined to it naturally! His sensuous
brutality made me almost fiercely brutal in turn. As it was, I could
only put him away with a gesture of contempt I sought not to command,
and with which I swept past him into the thickest of the crowd, cursing
at heart the bitter fate that had cast me bound and helpless, for a
season, into such unscrupulous hands.
There was no one to turn to now. I knew Mr. Lodore thought Evelyn
perfect, and me a sinner, because in the matter of church duties she was
the more observant. Besides, my Jewish pedigree had always been a
barrier between us. Dr. Pemberton, Mr. Stanbury, Laura, George Gaston,
all that truly loved and believed in me, were gone for an indefinite
time to Europe. I had not been suffered to accompany them, on many pleas
and pretences, as I had wished to do, and this was the end of it all.
Evelyn, too! a blinded confederate in such schemes as should have nerved
her woman's heart to indignation rather! Marry that man! I would have
cut off my own right hand, or burnt it to a cinder like Scaevola;
sooner gone out to service--played chambermaid on the boards, or the
tragedy-queen of the commonest melodrama, far rather! It was all insult,
injury, degradation, in whatever light I could view it, and every
feeling in my nature was stung to exasperation.
It was well understood that I was an heiress, and I did not want for
adulation. I was surrounded by fashion and beauty, and wreathed with
approbation from the noblest and most exalted, on that night of festal
splendor; and again that beautiful face that had cast its spell above me
in my inexperienced childhood, and that age never seemed to change nor
chill, bent above me with its gracious and genial sweetness, and the
princely banker on this occasion condescended to manifest his kindly and
approving interest in the daughter of his dead friend. At any other
time, such tribute would have been most grateful and acceptable to me,
for this man was almost my _beau ideal_ at this period, but now the
bitterness with which my heart was filled, permeated my whole being, and
dashed every draught of enjoyment untasted from my lips.
Yet the memory of that time--that face--returned to me later with
emotions irresistible, when the being who was then the idol of society,
became its ostracized outcast, and, among all who bowed before him in
his pride of place and power, were found, before two years had elapsed
from this period,
"None so poor
To do him reverence."
Already is the injustice of that decision forced on the convictions of
his fellow-men. Our scales are not wisely balanced in this world--we
cannot weigh motives against acts, thought against deeds, with atom-like
precision, nor measure the tempted with the temptation grain by grain,
hair by hair. Ambition was the fault of the seraphim in the
commencement--be well assured that some of the old angelic leaven
lingers still about all of its votaries and victims.
Ay--victims!--for he who was said to have made so many, was himself the
victim of the society that spoiled and flattered him, and fostered his
foibles, in the beginning, with its false and fawning breath, and,
later, blew on him a blast of ice from its remorseless, pestilent jaws,
that froze him out of his humanity.
He could not live--moulded, as he was, of all sweet elements--apart from
social influences, from the regard, the affection, the approbation of
his kind--and he died of heart-starvation; fortunate, indeed, in that he
was mercifully permitted so to die, rather than have lived, as less
fervent natures might have done, in cold and cheerless apathy.
I do not defend his errors; I only seek to extenuate them. Pity and
justice are not the same; but one may still so temper the other that
Mercy, the appointed angel of this earth, may be the result.
Let us, who are mortal and fallible, be wary how we condemn one whose
head was rendered giddy by his very pinnacle of power! Peace be his!
I have diverged so widely from my subject--a most bitter and revolting
one to me, eventually--that I will not return to it just now; nor,
indeed, do I even in thought revert to it with any thing like patience
or pardon. There are some things, paradoxical as this may seem, we must
forget, in order to forgive.
I am lingering too long on this period of my story, uneventful as it is
just yet, and circumscribed as I am in space; but, as the boldest rider
draws rein with a beating heart beside the dark abyss over which he must
fling his horse, or perish, so I pause here, on the threshold of
despair, and take breath for a flying leap--for I shall clear it,
reader, believe me!
It will be remembered that, at my father's death, half of my means were
invested in the stocks of the Bank of Pennsylvania; and that his
directions were that, as the different loans he had made became due,
they should, one after the other, be drawn in and invested in like
manner by Mr. Bainrothe.
No details of my business had ever been discussed before me, nor had I
any insight into the periods at which these loans were due, or how the
money was cared for when paid in by my father's executors, of whom, to
my regret, Mr. Gerald Stanbury had refused to be one.
One thing alone I had heard them say, and it was said, I doubt not,
expressly for my hearing. All debts should be paid in gold, as,
according to law, this was the only legal tender. Paper, however
excellent, should never be received in discharge of any liability of my
estate, since it might render the executors responsible to me, to depart
a hair's-breadth from the very letter of the law, which enjoined specie
"But why not receive bank stocks instead?" I had ventured to suggest, a
little indignantly, "seeing all moneys are to be immediately reinvested
in that form. Pennsylvania Bank stocks, I mean."
"You know nothing about the matter, Miriam," Evelyn had remarked, with
some asperity. "Had your father deemed you capable of conducting your
own affairs, he would not have appointed _us_ to manage and direct them
during your minority. No sinecure, I assure you!"
But Mr. Bainrothe had only laughed, and turned away tapping his boot
with his rattan cane, amused, it appeared to me, by my sister's
assumption of importance, and, probably, as well by her entire ignorance
of his true motive in exacting gold, of which secret spring of action
she, knowing nothing, still tried to make so profound a mystery.
Yet he flattered Evelyn very much, I saw, on her business
qualifications, and her insight into financial matters, of which
abilities, indeed, she was more proud than of her accomplishments, or
The last she took as a matter of course; but it was something new and
unexpected to her to be considered sagacious and strong-minded, and very
gratifying to her arrogant and exacting spirit--ever alive to the
delight of controlling the affairs of others, as well as her own--to
have the reins of government given apparently into her hands.
My father had placed an iron chest in a secure niche in the dining-room,
behind the great central mirror, made for the purpose of concealing it,
and to which he alone had access. Here he had kept a store of plate,
money, jewels, and papers, so as to defy all burglarious interference or
foreign scrutiny, and, in dying, had bequeathed the secret of the patent
lock to Mr. Bainrothe alone. Old Morton even was ignorant of the
I knew of the niche and the iron chest by the merest accident, and had
been requested, nay, commanded, by my father, not to speak of either;
so, in silence the mystery had almost died out of my recollection, when
it was rather singularly revived again in this wise:
During one of the hottest nights early in September, after our return
from Saratoga, I descended, parched with thirst, to the dining-room,
about four o'clock in the morning, to seek a glass of iced-water,
always to be found there, I knew, by night or day, on the sideboard, in
a small silver cistern.
The dawn was dimly breaking through the great window in the hall as I
passed down the broad stairway, still in my night-dress and unslippered
feet; but, on approaching the dining-room, I was surprised to see the
gleam of a candle falling athwart the mirror, which had been swung from
its place (as I had seen it once before swung by my father), so as to
screen my advancing form from the person evidently at work behind it.
The massive shutters of the room were closed and securely barred, as was
the habit of the house, and the room was, consequently, still in
darkness, or deep shadow.
As I stood half hidden now, by the arch of the hall, behind which I
shrank instinctively, and uncertain how to proceed, I saw Mr. Bainrothe
suddenly emerge from behind the mirror, and take from the table near it
a canvas bag, small but evidently weighty, from the manner in which he
carried it to its place of concealment.
Then I heard the slow, heavy fall of a shower of gold coins, dropping on
others, the same sound that had greeted my ear on the day when I first
detected this treasure-cave of my father, and as different from the
sound of falling silver as is the gurgling of rich old wine from the
dash of crystal water.
"The wretch is faithful to his trust, after all. So this is where he
keeps my gold," I thought; "but how did he find ingress into our castle,
supposed at least to be inaccessible by night? Has he a false key I
wonder, and are we above-stairs, with unlocked doors, subject to his
visitations, should it occur to him to make them?"
I shuddered at the suggestions of my own fancy. Women only, who have
been similarly situated, can know how dark these may become, even in an
innocent mind, from circumstances like those that surrounded me, and
what a nameless horror there is about the insidious and licentious
approaches of the man we would fain dash away from us, and trample under
foot like a serpent, did we dare openly to do so.
Yet I lingered under the archway, determined to observe to the last Mr.
Bainrothe's proceedings. When he had locked the chest and replaced the
mirror, which swung out from its place, as I have said, like a door on
invisible hinges and fastened with a spring, he passed hastily out of
the dining-room into the pantry beyond, opening for convenience on a
covered paved court, which divided the kitchen from the house and which
led directly into the yard beyond. After that, all was silent.
Yet, the next day, Franklin assured me that he had carried the key of
the pantry away with him, when he went home at night (he was a married
man, and slept at his own house usually), and that he found it locked in
the morning just as he had left it.
This was in answer to a question which I tried to make as careless as
possible, with regard to some burglaries that had lately been committed
in a neighboring street, adding, by way of caution: "Don't forget to
lock us up carefully at night, Franklin; remember we are all women in
the house, except Morton, and he is old and sleeps like a top, no doubt
having a good conscience for his pillow."
"If you would have an _inside_ bolt put upon the pantry-door, it would
be best, Miss Miriam," he remarked; "that is, if your mind is really
troubled about robbers. Then you could draw it yourself in my absence at
"And who would let you in, in the morning, Franklin, if I did this? Our
household would sleep until noon, were it not for your early summons, I
"I will throw a pebble at the cook's window, miss, if she is not on foot
by that time. But she usually is; cooks has to stir earlier than the
rest, you know, by reason of the light rolls and muffins."
"Oh, yes! true, I had forgotten this. Go at once, then, Franklin, for a
smith, and let him put a massive bolt on the pantry-door, and I will be
jailer of Monfort Hall in future, in your absence, for I am quite sure
some one was trying that lock last night. I came to the dining-room for
water just before daylight, and heard it distinctly."
"One of your lady-like notions," said Franklin, shaking his head, with
an incredulous smile; "young ladies is always nervous like, and fearful
about robbers, all but Miss Evelyn Erle--I never seen the like of her,
for true grit! All was safe when I came, Miss Miriam, any way, and, if
robbers had been about, it stands to reason the silver chest, setting
out in the pantry, would have stood a poor chance."
Again he smiled provokingly. "There are all sorts of robbers in this
world," I said, a little sternly; "some come for one purpose, some for
another. Attend to the bolt, Franklin, at once; I am very sure of what I
have said." And so the parley ended.
I am certain that Mr. Bainrothe came no more by night to his
treasure-cave, but there was a mocking smile on his lip--when Evelyn
told him, before me, some time later, that I had caused a bolt to be
placed on the pantry-door, for fear of burglars--that was significant to
"What is the use of this mystery with me," I thought, "when I alone am
concerned? Why not reveal to me at once the secret of the spring and the
lock, as I only am to be the beneficiary of all this gold? The man's
cunning is short-sighted. Suppose he were to die suddenly, how does he
know that I would ever be the wiser or the better of these deposits?
Years hence, when the house was crumbling to decay, some stranger might
be enriched by this concealed gold, for aught he knows, which is
legitimately mine. Evelyn, too, is in complete ignorance of this hidden
chest, I am convinced, and, as far as I am concerned, will probably
remain so. After all, does Bainrothe mistrust her honesty or mine? Good
Heavens! what a mole the man is by nature, how darkly, deeply underhand,
even in his responsibility! And there are two long years yet, nay more
to wait, before I can openly defy him and put him away forever. Loathing
him as I do, patience, patience! Rome was not built in a day. I shall
Months after this occurrence, months that passed swiftly because
monotonously to me, for by events alone we are told we measure time, I
was roused one night from my early slumber by the sound of bitter
weeping in Evelyn's chamber. I had left her engaged over accounts with
Mr. Bainrothe, having withdrawn rather than spend a long, lonely evening
in the parlor, somewhat indisposed as I felt.
I rose from my bed and went to her precipitately. I found her indulging
in a passionate burst of grief, almost choking with sobs of hysterical
"All gone--all gone!" she exclaimed, wildly, as I entered the room.
"Your estate--mine--Mabel's--all swept away with one fell swoop, Miriam!
The Bank of Pennsylvania has failed; it is discovered that Mr. Biddle
has proved defaulter, and we are ruined!"
"I will never believe it, Evelyn!" I exclaimed, vehemently, "until he
tells me so with his own lips. This is one of Mr. Bainrothe's fictions;
he is trying to wake us up a little, that is all. Mr. Biddle is the
Bayard of bankers--'_sans peur et sans reproche_.' As to that bank, did
not my father believe it to be as indestructible as the United States,
the government itself? Nay, did not Bainrothe himself do all he could to
convince him of it, and induce him to invest in its stocks? The wily fox
had his motive, no doubt, but it surely could not have been our ruin!
Our own fortunes are too intimately involved in his prosperity for this.
Besides, why have not the newspapers told us of this?"
All this time Evelyn was sobbing convulsively, and what I have told
continuously here was said by me in a far more fragmentary way between
her bursts of grief. She ceased now, and looked up, with some effort at
"The newspapers _have_ been discussing it for months past, all but Mr.
Biddle's organ, and that alone was permitted to enter our doors. Mr.
Bainrothe acknowledges this now. Have you not noticed the irregularity
of our Washington papers?"
"No; I so rarely read them, you know."
"Mr. Bainrothe, with mistaken charity," she resumed, "I fear, sought to
shield us as long as possible from the blow, which was inevitable sooner
or later; or perhaps he hoped still for an adjustment of affairs, that
might have left us a competence at least. But he was deceived, Miriam;
we are worth nothing--a round naught--" and she suited the action to the
word by the union of the tips of her thumb and finger--"is the figure
whereby to describe our fortunes now; and the heiress and her once
dependent friend and sister are alike--beggars! All brought to one level
at last--there is comfort in that thought, at least! Ha! ha! ha!" and
she laughed wildly, horribly. I never before heard such laughter.
"Beggary is a word I repudiate, Evelyn, in any case," I said, firmly;
"and we, it seems, if this frightful thing be true, are not alone in
ruin. Be calm, dear Evelyn! Learn to bear with dignity our fate. We must
sustain each other now--be all in all to one another, as we have never
been before. Thank God! let us both thank God, Evelyn, from our inmost
hearts, that we still have this shelter--and--yes--I have reason to
believe, much more."
And, kneeling beside her bed, I told her impulsively of our concealed
treasure behind the mirror (though I had once determined never to reveal
this to her or any one)--treasure guarded so long by me with bolt by
night and vigilance by day!
Oh, fatal error, never to be repaired or sufficiently repented of! Oh,
utter misplacement of confidence, not warranted, surely, by any thing
that had gone before, and the results of which I had subsequently such
bitter cause to deplore!
She listened to me with an interest and zeal that were unmistakable. She
sat up in her bed, with her large, blue, distended eyes fixed on mine,
turning paler and paler, brighter and brighter, as she gazed, until
their lustre seemed opaline rather than spiritual, and with her slender
white hands wreathed together like the interlacing marble snakes in the
grasp of the Laocoon, so long, and lithe, and sinuous, seemed the
polished, flexile fingers. Her lips were livid, but on her cheek burned
two flame-like spots, indicative ever with her of intense excitement.
Surely the god Mammon has rarely possessed so sincere a worshiper! Let
us do her this justice, at least. So far she was consistent; so far she
"You are sure of the truth of what you utter, Miriam?" she questioned,
"Sure as that I live," I replied.
"It is wonderful! Why did he not mention this to me? I cannot conjecture
his motive. But perhaps he has already removed and invested this gold,
Miriam, of which you say there was such a quantity as to have
represented a large portion of your landed estate, I think!"
"No, no; that is simply impossible. By night he has never done this, I
know. By day he could not effect this unseen or unsuspected. That
dining-room is so public, you know, that Morton sees every thing;
besides, I gave him directions which he blindly obeyed, I am certain
(you know his almost canine obedience to me, Evelyn), to remain, when
engaged with the plate, in the adjoining pantry, with the door ajar
between, and to be always on guard. Papa always allowed him the
privilege of that room, and I love to continue it, you know, since we
never use it except for meals. You remember I said this when you
objected to his sitting there, Evelyn, and remarked that he might as
well sit with the other servants, to whom he is so superior. But of
late, I confess, I have had a motive, and Morton knew this"--I
hesitated--"must have known it."
"Do you mean to say you confided the secret of the mirror to Morton, and
kept it from me? Thank you, Miriam!" loftily. "I might have expected
"Not wholly this," I replied, with embarrassment, for I saw how the
matter looked externally. "Morton simply knew that I wanted, for
purposes of my own, to exclude every one except himself from solitary
possession of the dining-room as much as possible, Mr. Bainrothe
especially. Yes, I told him this, but I kept papa's secret. Believe me,
Evelyn, I did this, and you know well enough what Morton's devotion is
to me not to believe that he religiously fulfilled my request without
asking for an explanation."
"Yes," she mused, "I saw him perched up there tonight, as usual, with
his old English newspapers, and I have observed that he never leaves his
post there, while Mr. Bainrothe remains. You could not have procured a
better watchman, surely; but why have you watched at all?"
"Because," I said, "I felt sure that mystery lurked behind those
nocturnal visits. You cannot doubt this yourself, Evelyn, and, with your
opinion of Mr. Bainrothe, must see that I felt I had good reason for
mistrust. I was determined to be present when that chest should next be
opened by him."
A smile quivered across her face. "I had not suspected you of so much
diplomacy," she observed, dryly; "but, after all, Miriam, how does this
change the posture of affairs to me? I shall be all the same, poor and
"No, Evelyn, no indeed! I promise you faithfully.--But what is this?" I
exclaimed, rising hastily from my knees, "I am faint--blind! Quick, the
drops Dr. Pemberton left for me, Evelyn, or I am lost again."
I threw myself across the foot of her bed, sick and bewildered, yet
feeling myself gradually--after a few moments of oppression--growing
better, in spite of the dark effort of my evil genius to gain his fatal
When she came with the drops, after some delay, I was, to her surprise,
able to sit up and look around me. The spell was over.
"I believe I have troubled you uselessly," I said; "I will go to bed
without medicine to-night, I think, and strive to be calm, as Dr.
Pemberton enjoined me to do, and there was good sense in his advice,
certainly. We have so much to do to-morrow, Evelyn--we two must remove
these deposits ourselves. But not a word to Bainrothe!"
"Miriam," she said, eagerly, "can you doubt my discretion when you know,
too, what your own promises have been now and long ago--to divide with
me, ay, to the last cent, like a sister? Now, I insist on the drops! You
are pale again, Miriam--collapsing visibly in my sight. Do take your
remedy--so efficacious of late in warding off these distressing attacks.
I have taken the trouble, too, to go after them. I was at some pains in
hunting them up; they were not in the usual place. Come, now, as a
punishment for your carelessness, I proclaim myself dictator, and
command you to swallow them at once," and she poured the medicine into a
"No, Evelyn," I averred, putting the spoon aside, "I am better without
the drops. I wish to see what my unaided _will_ and constitution can do,
"There is too much at stake to depend on these, Miriam. We must unearth
this treasure-trove to-morrow at daylight, and defeat Bainrothe on his
own grounds, or he may be beforehand with us. Take your drops, dear, and
have a good night's rest, and be ready for the contest. There, now, that
is a good sister," embracing me tenderly.
Persuasion and reason accomplished with me what _commands_ could not
have done. I took the drops, went quietly to bed, and was soon lost to a
sense of misfortunes, hopes, and the world itself.
I slept profoundly and long. When I awoke, the slant rays of the evening
sun were pouring through the blinds of my window, in lines of moted
light. Mrs. Austin was sitting close to the sash, with her invariable
knitting-work, her aquiline profile and frilled cap strongly relieved
against the jalousied shutters.
On the mantel-piece were the inevitable spirit-lamp and bowl of panada,
recognized at once as part and parcel of my malady. In the chamber the
usual smell of ether, the remedy so often ineffectually administered
during the period of my lethargic attacks.
I understood everything now--I had experienced another seizure, and I
had lost a day.
Whether it was this conviction that cleared my brain at once of those
mephitic fogs that usually clung around it after a spell of lethargy,
long after my consciousness returned, I never knew, but certain it is, I
sat up in my bed like one refreshed by sleep, instead of feeling
exhausted, and, greatly to her surprise, accosted Mrs. Austin in clear,
"How long have I slept? And where is Evelyn?" I asked.
"You have not opened your eyes to-day, dear child, until just this
moment; and Miss Evelyn has not been able to sit up in her bed since she
went to it last night, that shock yesterday overcame her so completely."
By this time she was standing by my pillow, after laying aside her
knitting, in a leisurely manner peculiar to her at all seasons. "But
Mabel is in the next room; let me call her to you."
"Let her stay there," I interrupted, in a manner so unusual with me,
whose first inquiry on reviving from illness had always been for Mabel,
instead of Evelyn, that Mrs. Austin looked surprised and startled.
"What ails you, Miss Miriam? I thought Mabel was always your first
thought; the little angel! She has been hanging over you tearfully all
day; never going near Miss Evelyn at all. It is so strange she shows
Strange that one being on earth, and that one my sister, should love me
better than Evelyn, in the eyes of her partial affection; and yet Evelyn
treated her with positive disrespect every day of her life, as I never
did; and often with severity as well. It was incomprehensible!
"Give me the panada," I said, grimly; "I am half starved, and must grow
strong again to do my work. I am not nearly so weak as I usually am,
though, after one of my seizures."
"You see you are outgrowing them, as Dr. Pemberton predicted you would.
I declare, you _are_ hungry, poor child; you have not left a
drop--pint-bowl too--with a gill of wine in it. Not going to get up,
Miss Miriam? Oh, no; you must not venture to do that yet."
And she tried gently to restrain me.
"Yes, I must get about again; I have much to do, and Evelyn must aid me,
if able. Is she ill or only nervous?"
"Very ill, I think; she wrote a note to Dr. Craig and sent it last
night, after you went to sleep; but he did not come."
"Quite naturally, since he had been absent some weeks. I could have told
her," I said, sententiously; "indeed, I thought she knew it. Who carried
"Poor old man! The idea of sending him on such a wild-goose chase, after
night. Papa would turn in his grave could he know he had been forced out
in the rain at such an hour, for a woman's whim. I would have suffered
tortures till morning first. Where was Franklin?"
"Franklin had gone home earlier than usual, and did not return to-day.
He is sick with a chill, we hear, and his wife is again ill."
"Who did the marketing?"
"Morton again! Why, the old man seems to be becoming a _factotum_ in his
declining years--he whose duties have always been so few, so simple! I
am provoked, for some reasons, that he should have been sent away
to-day. Fortunately, I bolted the pantry-door myself, before I came to
bed last night," I murmured, "and the front door is self-fastening. The
house was well secured, at least, by night."
"How long did Morton remain absent?" I asked, recommencing my system of
cross-questions, very abruptly.
"About an hour, I believe; but what makes you so particular, all at
once, Miss Miriam?"
"Some day you shall know, perhaps. In the mean while tell me, has Mr.
Bainrothe been here to-day?"
"He called about one o'clock, but, as all were poorly, went away again
without entering the house at all. I saw him go down-street, after
dinner, in his phaeton, with another gentleman, and have not heard
"You are sure he was not here, this morning--while--while Morton was
"Quite sure; he breakfasted later than usual, I think, for I saw him
throw open his side bedroom window at nine o'clock, and he was in his
shirt-sleeves then. He sleeps in a large room in the ell, you know. I
was standing at the pantry-door, and saw him distinctly, and he nodded
to me, and called something, but I could not hear what it was at that
"Where was Charity at that time, Mrs. Austin?"
"Cleaning the house, Miss Miriam--hard at work in the parlors, washing
windows--this is her cleaning-day, you know."
"And cook, what was she about?"
"She got breakfast early, for us people, and went to mass, but was back
by ten. Miss Evelyn had her breakfast after she returned, with Miss
Mabel, and there was no one to eat dinner down-stairs so she thought--"
"Never mind what she thought," I interrupted, "or who went and came, so
that all be well."
"You do ask such strange questions, this morning, Miss Miriam, and your
eyes are so big! Do you feel light-headed at all after your turn--maybe
you have fever?"
"Not at all--hard-headed, rather, Mrs. Austin--not even
heavy-headed--though leaden-hearted enough, God knows! We are ruined,
you know--or at least Evelyn tells me so. The rest I have still to
learn--I must see Mr. Bainrothe this evening. There is a positive
necessity for me to exert myself now, but first I have some examinations
to make. Give me a shawl and wrapper, good nurse, and my slippers. Don't
disturb Evelyn, or call Mabel till my return; and stay where you are
until then, if you wish to serve me."
I sped rapidly down-stairs, and entered the dining-room so noiselessly
that old Morton, who was a "little thick of hearing," did not hear my
steps nor move from his position by the fire, where he sat apparently
absorbed by his newspapers. "Morton," I said, and laid my quivering hand
upon his arm, "the time has come to act. Come help me to secure my
treasure." He rose silently to obey me.
I touched the spring of the mirror; it swung silently open, and revealed
to the astonished old man a square niche built in the wall--unsuspected
before by him--in which fitted an iron chest, the existence of which he
had never dreamed of until now. But the contents were gone--gone since
yesterday! The chest was empty, with its lid propped open. There was not
even a paper within.
With a bitter groan I tottered back against the wall, while the cold dew
stood on my brow, and my limbs trembled under me. This was indeed
"What ails you, Miss Miriam?" he asked, with an expression of anguish
upon his kind, old, quivering face. "Do you miss any thing--what have
you lost, Miss Miriam?"
"You left your post, Morton," I said, at last, "and this is the
consequence--I have lost every thing! Old man! old friend! did you
think I charged you to watch every one who came, so earnestly, to stay
here so constantly, without a good and sufficient reason? Some one has
been here before us--my gold is gone! we are ruined, Morton!"
Whatever my flash of conviction might have been, all suspicions against
Evelyn must have been allayed by the manner in which she received the
information of the loss of the deposits behind the mirror.
Her shrieks filled the house; another physician was hastily summoned in
Dr. Craig's absence, who gave her disease or seizure a Latin name--wrote
a Greek or Hebrew prescription--or something equally unintelligible, and
vanished ghost-like, in the manner most approved of by modern
There was no hard epithet that Evelyn did not apply to Mr. Basil
Bainrothe during her hysterical mania, and before the doctor's arrival;
but, on her recovery, she begged me to repeat nothing of the sort, if
she had been indiscreet enough to let out her true opinion of him and
his measures, in a moment of irrepressible emotion. "For," she pursued,
"it is expedient for us to keep on terms with the man, at least for the
present, and in no way harass or exasperate him--we are completely in
his hands now, Miriam--we must watch our opportunity--"
"I do not see that," I interrupted; "less now than ever, it seems to me.
What more can he do for or against us now? Our property is all
gone--except this house, plate, and furniture, and my mother's
diamonds--all of winch are tangible and visible, and in our own
possession. We have no debts--you pay house-bills monthly, and I,
fortunately, have just settled off every account I have in the world,
and have five hundred Spanish dollars to start anew with--my savings
during papa's lifetime. I hoarded it, fortunately, in this form for a
missionary purpose you remember, Evelyn, but afterward changed my mind."
"Yes, I remember; merely because the person it was intended for prayed
that the Jews might finally be exterminated."
"Was not that enough, Evelyn? The man who could utter such a prayer was
no Christian, and unfit for religious teaching. Since then I have come
to the conclusion that there is a great deal of undue and very
impertinent meddling with the heathen; who are entitled to their own
mode of worship as well as of government, and who I think are not yet
ripe for Christianity."
"You have strange notions, Miriam; you talk like an old French
"I never knew there was such a thing--a French sophist I am afraid you
mean. No, I am not a sophist, Evelyn; any thing else than that! I wish
sometimes I did not see so clearly. I love, I idolize the truth alone!"
She colored--sighed. God knows I was not thinking of her at that moment,
or speaking with that reference, however I may have had reason to do so.
Is it not strange that our dreams often present to us, in our own
despite, the vivid, photographic pictures struck by sleep from the dim,
unconscious negative of our waking judgment, which we refuse to
recognize as verities in the light of our open-eyed, daytime
responsibility? I, who had declared myself no sophist, knew later that I
had deceived my own heart, which spoke out so truthfully in dreams of
sleep, and refused to be silenced in the dead hour of night, however I
might stifle its suggestions by day.
In one of these suggestive, or rather reflected, visions, I saw Evelyn
groping through darkness to the side-gate which gave into the grounds of
Mr. Bainrothe from our own, made years before by my father's permission
for the convenience of his friend; the night was a dark and stormy one,
yet she went forth alone, or seemed to, in my vision, to seek a man she
detested, and with him connive the destruction of the fortunes of the
child of her benefactress, whose confidence she abused.
Then I saw them returning together, through that pantry-door which she
had left unbolted, though locked when she went out by another egress,
and which the man, who returned with her, readily unlocked with the
duplicate key he carried, _not_ by my father's permission. This last I
Now the scene was changed to the dining-room. Again I saw the mirror
swing back on its invisible and noiseless hinges, and now the glare of a
shaded lamp fell in bands of light across its surface. But I was inside
this time, by the glamour of my dream, and I saw them emptying the open
chest painfully, laboriously, stealthily; stopping now and then to
listen, to breathe, again working silently, industriously, at their
vocation of theft and crime!
At last all seemed accomplished. A large, covered basket was partially
loaded with the contents--heavy as lead--and, between them, they bore it
out into the storm and darkness again, and I heard the sound of the
spade and mattock at work on the graveled road.
Presently Evelyn came in again. Her air was wild and frightened; her
trembling hands were stained with mud, seen by the light of the lantern
she bore, and which she again hung in its accustomed place, stealing
quietly away into the darkened hall, to grope her way up-stairs. All
this while the farce of sending for Dr. Craig was being enacted, and
Morton was out on his fruitless mission in the rain!
Again it was morning, and I saw them together in the library, while I
still slept, consulting, planning, plotting, writing, erasing,
whispering; soon to separate, however, this time. Their arrangements
being completed without restraint, for again the old man was absent,
doing the duties of another, who, knowing not the motive of such request
or bribe, was content to work the will of a conspirator, and pass the
day in idleness at home, for the sake of a purse of gold. Here ended my
clairvoyance, if such it was.
All this may have been imaginary--part of it probably was--but the sense
of the dream was no doubt what my untrammeled judgment would have
suggested as truth, and what later--but let me not digress or anticipate
here, in the thickest of my troubles, the jungle-pass of my story as it
were, but strike on through a self-made path, it may be, to the light
that shines beyond the forest, even if it lead into the desert!
Something in Evelyn's suggestion had struck me as the best to pursue
under the circumstances, although at first I so boldly repudiated the
idea of Mr. Bainrothe's power. Unless I could prove that he had removed
the treasure for unworthy uses--why speak of it at all? I should only
irritate and set him on his guard by such allusions; whereas, by a
course of reticence, I still might learn, as she had suggested, the
truth when he least suspected my purpose.
It would be so easy for him to deny all knowledge of the concealed
chest--so easy to lay the robbery on Morton, even if the first were
proved--or even on Evelyn!
I had sent impulsively for Mr. Bainrothe to come to me on the evening
of my discovery, but his visit was delayed by a necessity that kept him
from home all night, so that I had time to revolve and resolve on my
course of action before I saw him, which was not until the following
afternoon, and by this time my mind had undergone a change. He came, but
not alone--his son accompanied him.
I have reason since then to think that Evelyn and Claude Bainrothe had
met before their cold and measured interview in my presence. It was to
me a painful and embarrassing one, and this time the graceful ease was
all on the other side--I was preoccupied and agitated, Claude courteous
and self-possessed, Evelyn lofty and confident, as though she had lived
or trodden down her emotions, and, to my surprise, Mr. Basil Bainrothe
wore his accustomed deliberate and self-poised demeanor, making no
reference, not even by his expression of face or a glance of his
kaleidoscopic eyes, to the sad catastrophe with which by this time I was
but too well acquainted.
I had been reading newspapers eagerly all day, when he came, and, from a
contradictory mass of evidence, had gleaned some grains of truth. One
fact was beyond contradiction--a second Samson had drawn down the ruins
of a temple, not on the heads of his foes alone, but his friends as
well, blinded, as he of old, by the treachery of that basest of all
Delilahs, a fawning public!
Yes, we were ruined; the only hope now was in the honesty of Mr. Basil
Bainrothe. Should the gold I saw him hiding away not have been
appropriated to the purchase of bank-stocks--should it have been saved
for me--we might still rejoice in wealth beyond our deserts, and equal
to our desires.
We still might keep the old, beloved roof above our heads, preserve one
unbroken circle of family domestics--live without labor, or terror of
the future. But would this be? I waited, as I still think I should have
done, for Mr. Bainrothe to take the initiative in this proceeding.
Impatient and sick-hearted, I saw day after day glide past, without an
effort on his part to explain or ameliorate my condition--one now of
excessive and wearing anxiety.
At last he came. For the first time in his life when a matter of
business was in question, he asked for me. I went to him alone at my own
instance, and somewhat to Evelyn's chagrin, I thought.
I found him in the library, of late our sole receiving-room; the rest
were closed and fireless. For, since the certainty of our misfortune, we
had received no society, and would not long be obliged to _decline_ it,
Evelyn thought. Her opinion of the world little justified the pains she
had taken to conciliate it.
I found Mr. Bainrothe buried in the deep reading-chair, always in his
lifetime occupied by my father, his hand supporting his head, his hat
and delicate ivory-headed cane thrown carelessly on the floor beside
him--his whole attitude one of deep dejection.
He started a little when I addressed him by name, as if reviving from
deep reverie--then arose and extended his hand to me, grasping mine
firmly when I gave it to him, which I did unwillingly I confess.
"Miriam," he said, "this is all very dreadful!" subsiding into his seat
again with a groan, and looking steadily and silently into the fire for
some minutes afterward. "Very dreadful!" he repeated, shaking his head
dismally; "wholly unforeseen!"
He glanced at me furtively once or twice to observe the effect of his
words--his manner. Disappointed probably by my silence and coolness, he
again affected to be absorbed in contemplation.
"Have we any thing left?" I asked quietly, at last--weary as I was of
this histrionic performance of his, and anxious for the truth.
"Nothing," was the gloomy reply that fell on my ear--on my heart like
molten lead; "nothing but what you know of. This house, this furniture,
well preserved it is true, but old and out of style. Your carriage and
horses--diamonds--in short, what you have in hand. That is all you have
left of the great estate of your mother."
"It is enough to keep the wolf from the door, at all events," I remarked
quietly, "and I am thankful for a bare competence; but why, under
existing circumstances, were you in such haste to remove the contents of
the iron chest behind the mirror, a portion of which you added to in
He rose with dignity and advanced to the corner of the mantel-shelf, on
which he leaned in a perfectly self-possessed position, one foot crossed
lightly over the other, I remember, and one hand at his side--a favorite
attitude of his. He interrupted my interrogatory with another, ever an
effectual aid in browbeating.
"How did you become possessed of the knowledge that I kept gold there?"
he asked, coolly; "I had meant to have preserved the secret of that
spring until your majority, but you women penetrate every thing. No, my
dear Miriam," he continued, without waiting for an answer,
"unfortunately, the gold you refer to was exchanged for worthless
bank-stocks in September last, according to the requisitions of your
father's will; and, as that was the latest paid in of the loans he had
made, and as all other means had been invested in like manner (and with
a promptness characteristic of me, I believe I may say without vanity),
as they fell into my hands. You will perceive, very clearly, that every
thing, beyond the property I have here pointed out to you, is swept
I sat confounded by his consummate mendacity. His manner was entirely
changed now--from one of gloomy depression, and absence of mind, to
jaunty self-complacency, and even a degree of defiance was blended with
his habitual coolness. It was only from his lurid and kaleidoscopic
eyes, on which the light from an opposite window fell sharply, as he was
speaking, that a glimpse of the inner man could be obtained. There was
something confused and excited in their expression that did not escape
me, but I kept my counsel, bewildered as I was.
"She has betrayed me!" was my involuntary reflection; "he was on his
guard for my question or accusation; unconscious of my daily
examination, he has borne away my gold, and it is lost to me forever!"
And I clasped my hands more closely.
All that I have stated in the last two paragraphs, of my observation and
reflections, passed through my mind like a flash--so that there seemed
scarce a momentary interruption between his last remarks and those which
followed--although so much had been recognized in the interval.
"It is unfortunate--" I said, merely eying him calmly.
For the first time during our interview, his eyes
quivered--drooped--fell before mine; but, recovering instantly, he gave
me a clear, cool stare in return for the quiet look of scorn he
encountered. I saw at once the hopeless nature of the case.
"You will show me your accounts, Mr. Bainrothe," I observed, haughtily;
"I require this at least!"
"When you have attained your majority, certainly, Miriam, not before. At
present, I have only Evelyn Erle to satisfy on that score, and the law;
I refer you to your guardian."
"Or whomsoever I choose to substitute as my guardian," I said; "I
believe that privilege vests in me, being over eighteen."
"There are outside provisions in your father's will that debar you,
unfortunately, from that usual privilege of minors of your age," he
rejoined, quietly. "I regret this for many reasons: I should be glad to
quiet any doubts you may entertain at once, but it is impossible that,
compatibly with self-respect, I can do this, after what you have
insinuated this morning; so you must wait, with what patience you can
command, for the coming of your majority."
"Nearly two years to wait!" I cried; "I should die before then, if only
of impatience. No, I will know at once. I will write to Mr. Gerald
Stanbury--I will go to the president of the bank--nay, to Mr. Biddle
himself. I will resolve this matter."
"You will do no such thing, my very dear young friend," said Mr.
Bainrothe, advancing and laying his hand lightly on my arm--I shook it
off, as if it had been a cold, crawling serpent. He retreated quietly
but quickly. "You will do no such thing, Miriam," he repeated, resuming
his post by the mantel-shelf, without evincing the least discomposure at
my behavior to him; "your own good sense, your own good feeling will
come to your assistance when you look this matter fully in the face, and
dispassionately, which I must say you are not doing now. I have not
earned at your hands mistrust and obloquy like this, Miriam; but, for
the sake of the past, I shall strive and bear with the present. Who has
inspired you with such opinions of me?"
Accomplished hypocrite! He tried to assume a much-injured air, to mingle
forbearance with his reproachful words; but my heart was as hard toward
him as a nether millstone, and his words made no impression on my flinty
feelings, not even enough to strike fire therefrom, or sparks.
"No one," I replied, "no one; I judge for myself in all instances. Why
did you secrete gold in the dead hour of the night, which, unless you
bore it away in the same mysterious, or even more subtle manner, ought
still to be in its hiding-place? Why did you preserve, even from Evelyn,
your knowledge of that retreat, and the payment of the loan, which she
asserts you have never communicated to her, from first to last? Why make
mysteries of business transactions which, by the tenor of my father's
will, she had a right to participate in, and be consulted about. Why?"
"I will tell you," he interrupted, gravely, and not without emotion.
"Pause, and I will explain my reasons, painful as it is to me to do
this, and greatly as I compromise myself by so doing, for, should you
choose to be indiscreet, I shall have gained a dangerous enemy. I have
no confidence in Evelyn Erie, in her truth, her sincerity, her honesty,
even. I would not place temptation in her way. There, that is why I
concealed the secrets of the spring-lock and recess in the wall from
her, to secure them for you. As to the depositing of gold in that iron
chest, I did it simply because I knew of no other place so safe and
secret. In my own house none such exists, and, as I never kept gold for
more than a few days after it was received, I thought it scarcely worth
while to place it in the vaults of the bank. As I tell you, it was
removed in September."
Surely no art was ever greater of its kind than that he manifested on
this trying occasion, yet it fell to the earth, like the shedding scales
of a serpent, before my simple discernment. Yet his words, his manner,
did in some strange and unexplained way greatly exonerate Evelyn in my
estimation, at least for a time, of complicity.
How could I consistently believe that two persons, entertaining of each
other such similar and degrading opinions, could trust one another
sufficiently to become confederates? Alas! I did not reflect that it is
of such conflicting elements conspirators and conspiracies themselves
are usually made, and that union of guilt creates eternal enmity.
I could not penetrate such depths of guile! I surrendered myself
readily, I confess, to these fresh convictions. Evelyn was narrow,
selfish, scheming, but, at all events, was not in league with this
vampire. That was much. We might still make common cause against
him--she with her injuries to avenge, I with mine--and preserve intact,
and without his hated interference, that which was left to us at least.
There was comfort in the thought.
While these considerations were photographing themselves on my brain,
with that indescribable rapidity of process whereby the action of the
mind excels even that of light, Mr. Bainrothe was again settling himself
down in my father's deep chair, and now once more addressed me in a sad
and broken voice, perfectly well suited to the occasion.
"Miriam," he said, "I too have been an extensive loser through the
failure of the Bank of Pennsylvania. Like yourself, with the exception
of the house I now reside in, and some few small tenements I hold for
rent, I find every thing swept away from me. Claude, it is true, is
comfortable, and on his slender estate we must both now manage to
support ourselves. You see marriage on his part is now simply out of the
question. He has his father to take care of."
He said this last in so significant a tone, and apologetic a manner,
that its intent was unmistakable, little dreaming how transparent my
conviction of his crime had made his motives.
"As far as I am concerned, it was so eighteen months ago," I responded,
and the blood rushed indignantly to my brow. "Yet I hope," I added,
after a moment's hesitation, "that Claude may still marry and be happy."
"You are still vexed with that boy of mine, Miriam, I see that. Oh, you
are wrong, there! It was not for him, unfledged and inexperienced, to
weigh the precious diamond against the paste pretense! He could not see
you with the eyes of riper judgment and deep feeling accorded to those
who have studied life, and learned its loftiest lessons. Had he looked
through my eyes, Miriam--" (he was standing before me now, his arms
extended, his eyes blazing, his cheeks and lips strangely aglow), "he
would have seen you as you are, the rose, the ruby of the world." He
seized my hand impetuously, and pressed it to his lips, then rushed
wildly away. A moment later, he returned, silently. I was standing
before the silver cistern, I remember, washing away with my handkerchief
an invisible stain from my hand, child-fashion, a loathsome impress,
when I felt his audacious arms thrown suddenly around me, and his hot,
polluting kisses on my face.
"I love--I love you!" he hissed in my ear, "and sooner or later I will
Before I could strike him, spit upon him, strangle him with my
hands--the thief, the midnight robber, the slave of lust--he was gone
again. I heard my own wild shrieks resounding through the house, like
those of some strange lunatic. I was for a time frantic with rage and
shame. But no one came to my succor, except poor old Morton. He crept
feebly from the pantry, and found me sobbing in my father's chair. As he
stood meekly before me, leaning on his staff, and looking in my face, my
only friend, so powerless to aid, the whole desolateness of my position
burst upon me, like an overpowering avalanche, I bowed my head and wept.
"Bear up, bear up, my lamb," he said, in his weak, tremulous voice; "we
have the promise of the Lord to rely on. Has he not said the seed of the
just man should never know want or beg bread? We must believe in the
Gospel, and be strengthened, Miss Miriam."
And he laid his quivering hand lightly on my head. I took it between
both of my own, and kissed it fervently, bathing it with my tears.
"Morton," I said, "dear old Morton, I have had such a terrible blow to
bear--shame!" and again I was choked with sobs.
"Shame! Oh, no, my dear young mistress! my birdie child; ruin is not
shame! This could never come near a Monfort, poor or rich! See! such as
these old hands are, they shall work for you to the bone, and, if I
understand matters aright, we still have the good roof left over our
heads, and some little means for all immediate wants. God will put some
good thought in your mind before long. Consult with Miss Evelyn; she is
wise. You are not the first high-born young ladies who have had to teach
"Oh, bless you, bless you, Morton, for the thought!"
All idea of telling him (helpless, as he was, to avenge it) of the
degrading treatment I had received was now laid at rest, and the
practical good sense of a suggestion, that, if successfully carried out,
would take us so completely out of the hands of Mr. Bainrothe, and
insure such complete independence, was felt at once.
At a glance I saw the expediency as well as the feasibility of the
Our large and secluded establishment was well fitted for a
boarding-school. Our father's spotless name, and our undeserved
misfortunes, were calculated to enlist popular respect and sympathy.
Evelyn's decided manners and liberal accomplishments, my better
principles and more solid attainments (I viewed things with the naked
eye of truth that day, and thus the balance was struck in its rapid
survey), might all be brought to bear on our new vocation.
"This is the very thing for us to do, Morton," I said, after a pause,
wiping my eyes, and smiling up into his dear, old, withered face, "I
will acquaint Evelyn with it before I sleep. Ay, and with other matters
as well," I added, mentally. "God help me now!--upon her verdict every
I met Mabel on the stairway as I ascended to my chamber. She hung about
my neck, in a childish way she had, and kissed me fondly. Perhaps she
had observed my agitated face, in which many emotions contended,
probably (as in my heart), but I only said, "Let me pass now,
darling!--One thing will," I thought, "be secure, under the
contemplated circumstances--your welfare and education, whatever else
betide--beautiful, and good as an angel, you shall be wise as well."
"Oh! I forgot to tell you, sister Miriam," she cried, running up-stairs,
after we had parted, "Evelyn has gone out, and left this note for you;"
and she placed one in my hand, adding:
"Mr. Claude Bainrothe was here, while you were in the library with his
father, and they went away together."
"Where did she receive him, Mabel?--the parlors are closed, you know."
"Yes, but she was all ready when he came. It was an appointment, I think
he said, to take a walk, and he stood at the front-door, until she went
down, only five minutes, sister Miriam. He did not mind it at all. He
sent her up the letter he had brought from the office, and she read it
out loud to Mrs. Austin. I was there--it was very short."
"What letter, Mabel?"
"Oh, about her aunt! This note tells you, I suppose. Evelyn is rich now;
but she had to go to New York to see the lawyer, so Mr. Claude Bainrothe
said, before she could claim the fortune."
More and more bewildered, I made haste to tear open the sealed note
which Mabel had given me. Its contents were scanty, and not fully
"MY DEAR MIRIAM: The ways of Providence are truly strange and
inscrutable, and its balance ever shifting. This morning I rose in
despair, to-night I shall lie down rejoicing; for a way is again opened
to us that will put it beyond _his_ power to annoy or oppress us
further. God knows we have both suffered enough, already, at his hands!
My maiden aunt, Lady Frances Pomfret, is dead, and makes me her heir. I
will show you the lawyer's letter when I return. The legacy is spoken of