Part 4 out of 9
in the letter as small, because English people compute property so
differently from ourselves. The attorney lives in New York, who is
empowered by my aunt's English executor to transact this business, and
it seems I; must go to him, Mohammed-like, as this mountain cannot come
"Claude Bainrothe is polite enough to offer to escort me to the boat,
which I shall barely reach in time; so, farewell for the present, dear
Miriam. I shall stay with Emma Gilroy, and return in a very few days.
Write to me, however, if I should be detained, to her father's care, and
keep a good heart, until the return of your fortunate
"P.S.--You know it is little matter, between sisters, which possesses
the property, so all share it. E."
Claude Bainrothe called that afternoon, and placed in my hand the copy
of the codicil that had been sent to Evelyn, together with the lawyer's
letter to which she had alluded, and which, on consulting with him, she
found it unnecessary to take with her to New York, her identity being
already established, beyond a doubt, with that of the legatee, in the
eyes of the American agent in possession of all the facts of the case
from the London attorney. I examined the codicil closely, and could find
no flaw! It purported to be the last will of the Lady Frances Pomfret,
who revoked all other bequests, in order to bestow her whole property on
her niece, Evelyn Erle.
I confess I had felt some doubts as to the existence at all of such a
person, of whom I had never before heard mention made, until I read her
last bequest, and saw with my own eyes the business-like letter,
confirming the whole transaction of Mr. James Mainwaring, the London
attorney, with its foreign post-mark, and huge office seal. This was
accompanied by one from a legal gentleman of New York, whose name was
familiar to me, as my father's agent, and which confirmed the truth of
the matter in the most effectual way; for, in his letter, Evelyn was
advised to come to New York and receive her legacy.
There was nothing more to be said, certainly; still I had strange
misgivings even then, which I felt to be both unjust and ungenerous, yet
could not wholly banish, and again I examined the codicil.
Claude Bainrothe smiled; it was the first time, let me state _en
passant_, that we had found ourselves alone together since his return.
"You scrutinize that will as if you were a legal flaw-finder, Miss
Monfort, instead of a very confiding young lady of poetical
"It is very short!" I said, sententiously, comparing at the same time
the handwriting with that of Mr. Mainwaring, who had in his letter
declared himself the copyist, the original codicil remaining in his
hands, together with the will it had annulled, and finding them the same
"Short, but sweet," he remarked curtly, yet smiling again, and extending
his hand for it. "I suppose one of Earl Pomfret's children had trodden
on the tail of the old maid's poodle--she lived with him it seems--and
offended her beyond repair, or something similar had occurred, to make
her change her intentions, which were at first all in his favor, and
revoke her first bequest."
"Mr. Mainwaring does not say so," I remarked, again glancing over his
letter. "He merely observes that it is only important to send a copy of
the codicil, since it revokes all previous bequests. How did you know
her first intentions--have there been other letters?"
"I suppose so," he replied, coloring slightly, "but what a lawyer you
are! I scarcely know how I got the idea, to be frank with you; it may be
incorrect after all, but Evelyn will tell you every thing, of course,
when she comes."
"Let me see the codicil again, Mr. Bainrothe," and I examined it once
more closely, as if by some fascination I could not resist. I remarked
only one peculiarity in the document. One word was written in a cramped
manner, as though space had been wanting--yet much of the sheet of paper
on which it appeared was unoccupied--this was the word "thirty," at the
beginning of the enumeration of moneys, for thirty thousand pounds
(repeated below in figures) was the sum set forth in the codicil as the
bequest of the Lady Frances Pomfret to her niece Evelyn Erle! The five
numerals that represented the same idea as the written words occupied
half of the last portion of the last line, and seemed to my invidious
eyes to make an ostentatious display of the power that may lie in a
cipher, or an array thereof.
I gloated over the record, with something perhaps of that spirit which
may have lurked in my blood, from the time of Jacob, and which, so far,
had not evinced itself, except perhaps on that occasion when my ear
thrilled to the music of falling gold.
As I gazed, I mused on the strange fate that took from one sister to
enrich the other so providentially, as it might have seemed.
The paper had fallen from my nerveless hand before I knew it, and I was
aroused from reverie by Claude's action in stooping for it, and his
"I will fold up this record, Miriam; it seems to render you gloomy."
"Thoughtful, certainly," I said, recovering myself, with that impulse of
self-command that belonged to me by nature; "no more--not envious,
Claude, I assure you, however appearances may be against me."
"Of such a feeling no one could suspect Miriam Monfort," he said,
gallantly; whispering low in the next moment, "one year has made strange
improvement in your beauty, Miriam--you are hardly the same little dark,
quick, yet quiet girl, I parted with when I went to Copenhagen. There is
so much more pose and majesty--more sweetness about you now--and Evelyn
too is changed--oh! sadly--sadly!"
"I have sometimes feared," I said, keeping down, as best I might; the
emotions conflicting in my bosom--"feared that she might be delicate,
and that her energies consumed her; you must control these, Claude!"
"I!--why, what on earth can I have to do with Miss Erle and her
energies? you speak in enigmas, Miriam!"
He was evidently embarrassed by the cool, incredulous look I dropped
upon him. "I had supposed every thing was settled some time ago," I
observed, quietly; "however, I will not bore you with conjectures or
questions, I shall hear every thing, of course, when the proper time
comes; until then, I shall hope to act out Milton's noble line, and
'stand and wait.' And now, if you have a few minutes to spare, do give
me the _resume_ of your experience at Copenhagen. What of the
climate--what of the people--what of the court? Are the women pretty or
plain, as a general thing--and had Hamlet light or dark hair, think you,
from present indications in the royal family? Or is it the same blood?
For you know that I have an enthusiasm about Denmark! It is such a
little, valiant, fiery, dominant state, and their _sagas_ of the
sea-kings set my blood on flame. This always was a weakness of mine, you
"Yes, I recollect perfectly how you used to run on about Elsinore. Well,
I went there frequently, Miriam, and can tell you all about the dreary,
decayed old town, to your utmost satisfaction. Even your romance would
fail, could you behold it now."
And Claude evinced considerable power, as a word-painter, in the hour
that followed, during the early part of which Mabel appeared at the
door, was silently beckoned in by me, to remain a quiet and delighted
listener, almost to the end of the interview, when Mrs. Austin suddenly
summoned her away; and again Claude Bainrothe and I were left for a few
minutes _tete-a-tete_. When my visitor departed, or rose to do so, we
shook hands frankly; and I thought, on the whole, he seemed grateful for
my mode of treatment, and the interest I had shown in his narrative--so
entire a proof of the disinterested nature of my feelings, could he only
have thought so! It had probably been his intention to test and probe
them in the beginning, and he had succeeded.
He lingered a moment, however, on the threshold, gazing at me earnestly.
"Miriam," he said, reentering and closing the door, "Miriam, I wish I
could be certain of your friendship. I may put it to fiery proof before
long. Can I rely on you to support me then?"
"Claude," I rejoined, gravely, "if I can assist you in any useful or
honorable way, I shall be glad to do so, on general principles alone.
You did not respond fairly to my friendly manifestations in times past,
after--after a certain explanation, and the impulse has died away since
then, I confess. Our future lives can have very little in common, I
"Would you not help me to break a loathed chain?" he asked, almost
fiercely. "Bonds are often forced upon a man," he continued, "by the
very reason of his superior strength. It is so hard to resist a pleading
woman! O Miriam! more than any one living, I respect--revere--love--yes,
love you. Pity me! You can assign no secondary reasons now to
professions like these. You are no longer rich--no longer--"
"Miss Kilmansegg, with the golden leg," I interrupted, derisively.
"Truly you surprise me."
"O Miriam! how can you treat me with such heartless levity?" and he
wrung his hands bitterly. "I am pushed to desperation already. I never
knew, until I lost you, what you were to me; how superior to all other
women, how pure, how unworldly, how strong, how rich in all mental and
womanly endowments! Hear me, Miriam," and he attempted to take my hand,
an error of which he was soon made conscious.
"Claude Bainrothe," I said, sternly, "I can tolerate you on one
condition alone--that you respect me. You cease to do this, you, the
betrothed husband of another woman! the moment you sully my ear with
your addresses, your effusions of sentiment. They are no more, I know;
but even these I will not endure from you, nor yet from--" I hesitated;
a hated name had risen to my lips, but I repressed it. He, the son,
surely was not the father's keeper.
"You do me injustice; before Heaven, you do!" he exclaimed, flinging
back his long curling locks impetuously, by a toss of his superb head,
and bending his blazing eyes upon me. "Hear me, Miriam, I hold the clew
to a secret by means of which I can compel wealth to flow back to your
feet, in the old channels, if you will be mine. You would not have
thought this condition hard a year ago. What has occurred to change you?
You loved me then--by Heaven you love me still! Oh, say so, Miriam, and
make me doubly blessed! Am I deceived in the expression of that beaming
eye? You will pardon, bless me;" and he knelt humbly at my feet, and
clasped my hand.
"Rise, Claude," I said, "and forgive me if a momentary feeling of
triumph, that may have lit my eye, was mingled with the feeling of
entire emancipation from all past weakness, which this hour so surely
proves, and so satisfactorily, to my own spirit. You are to me like any
He was standing sullenly before me now, his head dropping on his breast,
his hands loosely clasped before him.
"You are deceived," I pursued, calmly, "if you imagine from any
expression of mine that one ray of love survives the ruin of other days.
I told you the truth when I said all was over between us forever. Did
you suppose me a woman to sit down in the ashes because one man--one
woman of all God's manifold creation--had proved false, or treacherous,
or ungrateful? I should have wronged my youth, my soul, my descent, my
God, had I so yielded. Go and fulfill your contract faithfully this
time; a second rupture might not go so well with you as the first. There
are persons who are singularly tenacious of their possessions, and who
number their bondsmen as a principal portion of their property. Beware
how you anger such! Your father too. He would be conciliated now, by
what would once have incensed him. Evelyn Erie is rich, Miriam Monfort
is poor; why need I add another word? The suggestion is perfect."
Coldly, silently, angrily, he left the room. I heard him stamp
impatiently at the hall-door, at some delay apparently in undoing its
fastenings--his childish habit when provoked--such was his haste to be
Yet I could scarcely judge, from what had just occurred, taking this,
too, in connection with what had passed long before, when I alone was
the injured and forgiving one, that I had drawn down upon my head his
But thus it proved.
Months passed away--months of dreary, monotonous despondency, through
which ran a vein of anxiety that banished peace. During all this time
matters went on pretty much as they had done before, with one exception,
I held no further intercourse with Mr. Basil Bainrothe. Claude was
absent most of this time on business, for a firm with which he had
lately connected himself, and on the few occasions of his presence at
Monfort Hall treated me with marked formality.
Evelyn had affected to make light of Mr. Bainrothe's outrage toward me,
though far from defending him. "Men of his years do these things
sometimes," she said, "under the mask of playfulness and fatherly
feeling, and, however unpleasant it may be to bear them, one has to pass
them over. You are right, of course, to be reserved with him henceforth,
Miriam. By-the-by, dear child, your prudery is excessive, I fear, and it
makes a young girl, especially if she is not beautiful, so ridiculous!
But, of course, that even is far better than the opposite extreme. Now,
I flatter myself, I know how to steer the _juste milieu_, always so
"But, Evelyn," I had rejoined, "his manner was atrocious! I could not--I
would not if I could--give you any idea of its _animality_; yes, that is
the very word! it makes my blood creep to think of it, even!"
And I hid my face in my hands, crimson as it was from the
"Then don't think of it at all. That will be the best way, decidedly,"
she had said, tapping me playfully with her fan, then whispering: "This
lover of yours may be useful to us, you know; let us not goad him to
rebellion. You can be as cool as you please, Miriam, but be civil all
I surveyed her with flashing eyes. "Such advice," I retorted, "falls but
poorly from your lips, Evelyn Erle, whom my mistaken father dubbed
'propriety personified.' One woman should feel for another's wounded
delicacy, even if a stranger; but, when it comes to sisters, O Evelyn!"
"And such insolence falls very absurdly from you, Miriam Monfort, under
the circumstances. Sisters, indeed!" she sneered. "It was a claim you
repudiated once!" and, with a sweeping bow, she left me, to repeat
"sisters, indeed!" in my bitter solitude.
What were these circumstances to which she so haughtily referred? With
my heavy head resting on my weary hands, I sat and contemplated
them--ay, looked them fully in the face! Outwardly, matters stood just
as they had ever done.
The same circle of servants--of acquaintances--revolved around us. The
house was unchanged, the living identically the same, even to the one
bottle of fine wine per day, carefully withdrawn from the cobwebbed
cellar by Morton, and as carefully decanted for our table.
But this alone, of all the viands set before us, was furnished at my
expense. My own small hoard of silverpieces had, it is true, from the
time of our ruin, more than sufficed for my absolute wants and Mabel's,
confined, as they were, to mere externals of necessary dress; but all
other outlay, even to the payment of Mabel's masters (I taught her
chiefly myself, however), was met by Evelyn.
We, the children of a proud man, were dependent on strangers. Look upon
it as I would, the revolting fact stared me out of countenance. Charity,
the chambermaid, had more right to lift an opposing front to Evelyn than
I had; for she earned the bread she ate, while I--there was no use
concealing the mortifying truth any longer--served the apprenticeship of
True, the house was legally mine--the furniture I used, the plate I was
served from, the carriage I occasionally drove out in, were all my own
possessions--though, with a slow and moth-like process, I was gradually
consuming these. For, at my majority, it was my determination to pay for
my support in the intervening years, even if I sacrificed every thing in
order to wipe out obligations. Ay, the very corn my horses were eating
(what mockery to keep them at all!) was now furnished by another, and
must eventually be paid for, with interest.
Then, how would it fare with me, beggared indeed? I would take time by
the forelock; I would begin at once.
"Evelyn," I had said, not long after the conversation reverted to, "is
there no way in which my property may be fixed, so as to leave the
principal untouched, and still yield an income sufficient for my
support, and that of Mabel? The bread of dependence is very bitter to
"I ate it long," she said, "and found it passing sweet. You are only
receiving back the payment for an old debt, Miriam. Your father's lavish
generosity can never be repaid, even to his children, by me, who was so
long its happy recipient."
The words seemed unanswerable at the time, inconsistent as they were
with her past reproaches. Again she said--when the same murmur left my
lips upon a later occasion--looking at me sorrowfully as she spoke, and
with something incomprehensible to me in her expression that affected me
strangely: "Wait until you are of age, Miriam: all can be arranged
definitely then; but now, the waves might as well chafe against the
rocks that bind them in their bed, as you against your condition;"
adding with a tragic look and tone, half playful, of course, "Votre
sort, c'est moi. You remember what Louis XIV. said, 'L'Etat, c'est moi;'
now be pacified, I implore you--all will still be well," and she patted
my shoulder kindly, and kissed my forehead.
Her forbearance touched me; but the time came when all this was thrown
aside. It was the old fable again of the bee and the bee-moth. Having
failed in her first efforts, she was now very gradually gluing me
against the hive.
Evelyn, as I have said, had always been at the head of my father's house
and mine, and, by his will, was still to remain so until my marriage, or
majority--one, usually, in the eyes of the law, in most respects. So it
pained me infinitely less than it must have done had a different order
of things ever existed, to see her supreme at Monfort Hall, and to feel
that every thing emanated from her hand.
Of all the servants, old Morton alone seemed to feel the difference.
Mrs. Austin had always openly preferred Evelyn to me, and Mabel to
either--so that matters worked very well between those three. For,
though I do not think Evelyn loved Mabel, nor Mabel Evelyn, yet, with
this link between them of servile affection, they managed very well,
without much feeling on either side.
Mrs. Austin certainly spoiled Mabel, yet she only rendered her
self-indulged, not selfish--for this difference arises out of
temperament and disposition--and no mother could have been more tender
or vigilant of her comfort or welfare, than was this ancient and
attached nurse and servitor. I mention this here, for it reconciled me
later, somewhat, to an inevitable separation, that must have been else
thrice bitter. But the culmination approaches!
I was lying, one evening, on a deep velvet couch in the library, now
rarely used except for business purposes--for, again, fires and lights
sparkled, in their respective seasons, in the several receiving-rooms of
Monfort Hall, maintained by Evelyn's bounty--when, overpowered by the
influence of the hour, and the weariness of my own unprofitable
thoughts, and perhaps the dreary play of Racine's that I was reading, I
The sofa was placed in a deep embrasure, surrounded with sweeping
curtains, for the convenience of reading in a reclining posture, by the
light of the window, and quite shut away, by such means, from the
remainder of the room.
To-night, a chilly one in August, very unusual for that season, the
window was down, and the drawn curtains kept off the light of the dim
lamp that swung from the centre of the apartment immediately above the
I was roused to full consciousness by the sound of voices, which I had
heard indistinctly mingling with my dreams for some time before.
Mr. Bainrothe and Evelyn were conversing or discussing some subject,
"You had the lion's share," I heard him say; "you have no reason to
complain. The rest came in afterward, and was all merged in that
sinking ship, and went down with it into the deep waters. It would not
have been as much as you received, had it been saved, which it was not."
"That is not my concern," she rejoined, dryly; "but for my
communication, Miriam would have secured all next morning. She was bent
upon it. You ought never to forget this."
"Nor do I; but, after all, you are the chief beneficiary, Evelyn."
"And your son--do you count his welfare as nothing? Will he not share
with me? Nay, was it not for his sake, chiefly, I warned you, knowing
how implacable else you might be toward us both, and how 'gold would
gild every thing' in your estimation."
"True, true; but still something is due to me. Undertake this
office--succeed--and command me, eternally. I love that girl, as you
know, as Claude could never love any one, and it will go hard with me if
I do not still inspire her with somewhat of the same sentiment--that is,
with your coincidence."
"Never, never!" she exclaimed with asperity; "her hatred is too
implacable--the Judaic principle is too firmly grafted in her life.
Truly, she is one of a stiff-necked generation. Her heart is especially
hard toward you, Basil Bainrothe--and, I confess, you were precipitate."
"I know, I know--but that error can be repaired. I did not think of
marriage _then_, I confess; after her bankruptcy and scorn to me, things
had not gone so far; her own severity has made me consider the subject
seriously. She is not one to be treated lightly, Evelyn!"
"Your son found that out to his cost!" was the bitter rejoinder, and I
heard her draw in her breath hard between her closed teeth, with the
hissing sound so familiar to me, and peculiar to her when she labored
under excitement--a sound like that of a roused serpent.
"Yes, to his cost; but there is no question of that now. Though, I must
say, I think he erred. He, like the base Judean, cast away a pearl
richer than all his tribe!"
"Thank you!" was Evelyn's curt, ungracious reply.
I rose from the couch, my hand was on the curtain; painful as it was to
me, I would go forth and confront them both with the acknowledgment of
their conspiracy, their fraud. I would not again listen to bitter truths
as I had done before, involuntarily, when bound hand and foot by the
weakness of my condition. I was strong and courageous now. I had no
excuse for hearing another syllable--I would defy them, utterly!
All this passed like a flash through my mind.
On what slight pivots our fate turns sometimes! How small are the
guiding-points of destiny! A momentary entanglement of my bracelet, with
one of the tassels of the curtain, delayed me an instant, inevitably, in
my impulsive endeavor to extricate myself from its meshes, and what I
then heard, determined me to remain where I was, at any cost to my own
sense of pride and honor.
Fear, abject fear, obtained complete ascendency over every sense, and
personal safety became my sole consideration. I, who had boasted so
lately of my courage, felt the cold dew of cowardice bathe my brow, its
tremor shake my frame.
They were plotting--deliberately plotting, as the price of secrecy on
one part--to shut me up in a lunatic asylum until my consent could be
obtained to that ill-starred marriage!
"Every thing is favorable to this undertaking," I heard Mr. Bainrothe
say; "her own moody and excitable condition of late--the absence of her
physician (meddlesome people, those conscientious medical men sometimes
prove, even when not asked for an opinion!)--Mrs. Austin's testimony as
to those lethargies, which would be conclusive of itself--our own
disinterestedness, so fully proved by our devotion to her and Mabel,
under difficulties--her mother's mysterious malady--all these things
will make it easy to carry out this plan in which your cheerful
coincidence, and perhaps Claude's even, will be essential."
"I doubt whether you succeed in gaining him over," she remarked, coldly;
"and, as to me, I shall act as you desire, perhaps, but any thing but
'cheerfully,' I assure you. I consider it a mighty price to pay for--"
"A fortune and a husband?" he queried. "Claude has his suspicions, I
well know, but they rest on me alone so far. Could he be convinced of
your part in distracting Miriam's gold from its legitimate channel,
believe me, he would turn his back on you forever! I know the man."
"Yet he saw me--he must have seen me--alter that word in the codocil to
my aunt's legacy--asking no explanation at the time, receiving none
"That was different; he thought it a piece of vainglory on your part
alone, amounting to nothing, if, indeed, he observed it at all. No, no,
Evelyn Erle! if you expect to carry out your views, you must aid me in
executing mine. I shall keep your secret from my son on no other
conditions. We are confederates or nothing in this matter, you see."
"And suppose, in return, I publish yours to the world," she suggested,
coolly; "brand you with baseness? What then, Basil Bainrothe--what
"You dare not!" was the prompt reply. "I hold written propositions of
yours on the subject--you have not a scratch of a pen of mine to show. I
should declare simply that you were a frustrated rogue, that is all. Who
could prove otherwise?" He laughed in his derisive way. There was a
"What is it you want me to do?" she asked, hoarsely, at its expiration.
"State definitely what you exact from me in return for your
forbearance--your _honorable_ secrecy?" There was exquisite irony in her
"Simply this," he said, calmly, taking no notice of her emphasis--"you
are to accompany Miriam to the asylum and act as her nurse and guardian
until my point is gained. You shall be present at every interview, and
you shall both be made perfectly comfortable--treated like ladies; in
short, every propriety shall be sacredly observed, and, on the day on
which her marriage with me is solemnized, you may both return to Monfort
Hall--you as its head, and Claude as its master; Miriam will go home
with me, her husband, of course, and all will be settled. Now, I give
you twenty-four hours wherein to consider this proposition. At the end
of that time, if you still hesitate, Claude shall know every thing. You
can then take your chances with him--he may be ready to take a felon for
a wife, for aught I know, after all!"
"Come, then, to-morrow evening," she acceded, after a second pause, and
in low, angry accents, "and I will acquaint you with my
determination--my necessity rather." They parted thus and there.
Nearly dead with terror and indignation, I crept stealthily to my own
chamber, in which I locked myself up securely, resisting all friendly
overtures of the enemy, except one cup of tea, received from the hand of
a servant through the half-opened door (which was instantly relocked) of
My resolution was formed that night. I would leave Monfort Hall, and
even forsake Mabel, until I could return and legally claim both. At my
majority, Mabel would be of age to select between her guardians, by that
time, according to law, and--we should see! As for poor Morton, I would
write to him and claim his prayers alone. Age like his is so
irresponsible. I dared not trust him farther!
It was all very brief and bitter!
As yet I had digested no plan of action. I would go westward, I thought,
but just as far away as my money would carry me from these fiends,
trusting to God for the rest, just as a boat puts off from a blazing
Of course, I must adopt another name--what should it be? I should need
clothing; and _how_ secure and convey away my trunk unseen by Evelyn? My
diamonds must be secreted or disposed of--how should this be done? Could
I trust Mrs. Austin--Mabel?
No, the suggestion was discarded at once as unworthy of consideration.
One was too old, too self-indulged, too selfish; and in age people
usually worship expediency alone. The other far too young not to be
necessarily indiscreet and impulsive. To have been otherwise at her
tender age would have been simply monstrous!
No, I must forego even the sweet satisfaction of saying farewell to
Mabel; we must part perhaps forever, as we might meet again within an
hour, and all her distress and anxiety must pass unshared and unheeded.
There was no one else I cared very much about leaving, but the love of
locality was a strong feature in my disposition, and every room in my
father's house was dear to me, as was every book in his study, and every
plant in our deep-green, shadowed garden.
The very streets were sacred in my sight, that I had trodden from
childhood, but my liberty was more precious to my heart than scenes of
old associations, and to gain one the other must be sacrificed. There
was no hesitating now: I was on the tread-mill of fate, and must
proceed, or fall and be crushed beneath.
And here again I repeat, what I have said so recently: "On what slight
pivots our destiny often turns!--through what small channels Providence
works its wondrous ways!"
A pair of shoes had been sent home for me that day, which still lay on
the table, wrapped and corded. In truth, they came very opportunely; "I
shall want these soon," I thought, as I examined the strong and elastic
bootees, which had been made for me in view of my morning walks, a part
of dear Dr. Pemberton's regimen, which I strenuously and advantageously
As I spoke, the paper in which they had been enveloped rustled down on
the floor by my side. I stooped, languidly, to pick it up, merely from a
sense of order, and my eye fell on a long column, headed "Wanted," and,
almost for lack of resolution to withdraw it, wandered down its
paragraphs, step by step.
It was a Democratic paper, such as was never patronized by
Evelyn--herself a zealous conservative in politics, as our father had
been before us--and, as I cared little for newspaper-reading, I had
never suggested a subscription to any sheet that she did not fancy,
although I inclined to democracy.
I was somewhat amused by the quaintness of some of the advertisements of
this sheet for the people, that style of literature being new to me; and
found myself smiling over the perfections set forth as necessary, by the
paragons of the earth, in both wife and servant, when I came to a dead
stand. Here was the very thing I should have selected, could I have
chosen my own destination instead of depending on _chance_ (as if,
indeed, there were such a thing _possible_ with God--the predestinator
of the universe), or necessity (is the name a much better one as applied
to the all-seeing Deity?), or fate (a more comprehensive but little
less-abused term, perhaps), to do this for me!
The advertisement ran thus, and quite fascinated me with its
eccentricity, as well as congeniality to my condition:
"A gentleman and lady, now sojourning for a short time at the Mansion
House, wish to employ, immediately, for the benefit of their children,
an instructress, who must be, _imprimis_, a lady--and young; secondly,
soundly constituted and well educated; thirdly, a good reader, and able
to teach elocution, and entertain a circle; fourthly, willing to reside
with cheerfulness on a Southern plantation; fifthly, content with a
moderate _modicum_ as salary. None other need apply--no references given
or asked. Inquire for _Somnus_."
I laid down the paper, and drew a long, free breath; then rang a peal of
merriment, startling under the circumstances. It was the first hearty
laugh that had left my lips for many days. "What an oddity, one or the
other of these people must be!" I thought, "the man most probably--yes,
I am sure it is he--no woman ever was so independent of references, or
made youth a _sine qua non_, nor elocution either. But am I soundly
constituted? ay, there's the rub! suppose my terrible foe sees fit to
interfere, 'Epilepsy,' as Evelyn called it, and perhaps with reason--God
alone knows!--what then? Well, I will hazard it--that is all--I will
charge nothing for lost days, and try to be zealous in the interval;
besides, it is a long time since one of these obliteration spells
occurred; for I shall ever believe Evelyn dosed me for her own purposes
on that last occasion! Fiend!--fiend!--and yet my little sister _must_
remain in such hands for a season, protected by her guardian angel
I passed a feverish night, employing the first part of it in quilting my
diamonds into a belt which I placed about my waist; and the remainder in
putting together as many useful, as well as a few handsome clothes, as
my travelling-trunk would contain; bonnets, evening-dresses, which
require room to dispose of, and the like vanities, I abandoned to
Evelyn's tender mercies. I rose early and, as usual whenever the weather
permitted, sallied forth before breakfast, but this time unaccompanied
by my usual attendant, Charity.
The "Mansion House" was at no great distance from our own residence.
The beautiful home of the Bingham family, then converted into an hotel,
destroyed by fire at a later period, like our own house, was situated in
the ancient part of the city, from which fashion had gradually emerged,
and shrank away to found new streets and dwellings.
I rang at the private door, and asked the porter for "_Somnus_;" at the
same time sending up a card, on which was written:
"'Miriam Harz,' applicant for the post of teacher."
A few moments later a grave, copper-colored servant, respectably clad,
and with an air of responsibility about him that was almost oppressive,
invited me solemnly to follow him up the winding marble stair--so often
trodden by the feet of Washington and his court, when a gracious
assemblage filled the halls above--and ushered me into a small but lofty
parlor at its head, in which a gentleman sat reading the morning
Very wide awake, indeed, seemed he who affected the title of the god of
sleep, as he arose courteously from his chair, still holding his paper
in one hand, and waved me to a seat on the worn horse-hair sofa between
He was a tall, thin, sallow, hooked-nosed gentleman, of middle age, with
a certain air of distinction about him in contrast with his singular
"Miss Harz?" he said, interrogatively, glancing at the card over the
mantel-shelf--near which he had been sitting--above an unseasonable,
I bowed affirmatively for all reply. "And I," he continued, "am Prosper
La Vigne, of the '_Less durneer_' settlement" (for thus he pronounced
this anglicized French name) "Maurice County, Georgia," with an air
that seemed to say, "You have heard of me, of course!" and again I
bowed, as my only alternative.
"Lay off your bonnet, if you please," he said, coolly; "I would like to
see the shape of your head before proceeding further. Mine, you see, is
an ill-balanced affair," smiling quizzically in his effort to be
condescending, perhaps. "This is a mere business transaction, you know,"
seeing that I hesitated to comply, "and your phrenological developments
must atone for my deficiencies, or all will go wrong at once--but do as
you like. Now that you have thrown back your veil, I can see that the
brow is a good one. That will suffice, I suppose. I will take the moral
qualities on trial for the nonce. My wife is wholly occupied with her
domestic and private affairs, you must understand, when we are at home,
and much will devolve on you; that is, if we suit one another, which is
dubious. That reminds me! I have not heard the sound of your voice yet;
I am much governed by intonation in my estimates of people, and usually
form a perfect opinion at first sight. Be good enough to read this
item," and he handed me the morning paper, formally indicating it with
his long, lithe forefinger. It was from one of Mr. Clay's speeches. I
did as he requested, without hesitation.
"People trot out horses and negroes when they wish to purchase; why not
governesses?" I questioned, dumbly. "He did well to ask no references;
his examination is thorough, I perceive," and I laid the paper down,
half amused, half provoked, when I had finished. He was gazing at me
open-mouthed--no unusual thing with him, I found later--and was silent
for a few moments.
"Splendid! admirable!" he exclaimed, suddenly; "both, voice and
elocution perfect--you possess the greatest of all accomplishments,
madam, next to conversational excellence," rising to his feet, and
bowing low and seating himself again, in a formal way of his own. "Music
is a mockery compared to such reading! as well set a jew's-harp against
the winds of heaven! You understand my meaning, of course; it is not
precisely that, however. Now let us converse a little."
"The advertisement did not refer to that, I believe, as a condition," I
said, somewhat indignantly, and flushing hotly as I spoke. "I really
cannot converse to order. I am a person of moods, and do not feel always
like talking at all," and I rose and prepared to draw down my veil, take
up my parasol, and depart.
"I like you none the worse for a proper exhibition of spirit," he said,
nodding kindly, and settling himself once more to his paper composedly.
"Sit still, miss, and compose yourself by the time Madame La Vigne comes
in, or she _may_ think you high-tempered, and I am sure you are nothing
of the kind--only very properly proud. There, now, that is right! You
seem to be a very sensible, well-conditioned young person indeed, and I
think you will suit. You are the tenth since yesterday morning," smiling
and bowing blandly, "and the only one that could read intelligibly.
Elocution, you see, is my hobby. I forgot to say," looking up from his
paper, after a pause, "the salary is six hundred dollars--not enough,
perhaps, for a lady of your merit--but quite as much as we can afford to
give. This I call a _modicum_."
"It is not very important," I remarked, "what I receive in the shape of
money, so that I am at no expense beyond my clothing, and other personal
matters, and that I find myself well situated. My engagement will, in
no case, extend beyond a year. You have your peculiarities, I see, and
I have mine. The question is, might they not jar occasionally?"
"Oh, never, never! '_noblesse oblige_,' you know," with a wave of the
hand, soft and urbane. "I hope I shall know how to treat a lady and a
teacher, both in one, and a member of my household. Besides that, I
shall have very little to do with you, indeed. Just now it is
different--we are coming to terms; we have not made them yet, however. I
always save my wife this trouble, if possible.--Ah! there she comes, at
last," as a mild, lady-like looking woman emerged from an adjoining
chamber, somewhat elaborately dressed for that early hour, and followed
by a stream of pale, pretty little girls. "Madame La Vigne," he said,
rising ceremoniously, "permit me to introduce to you Miss Miriam Harz,"
reading the name slowly from the card again, which he took from the
wall, "'a candidate for the position of instructress at
Beauseincourt.'--Say, how do you like her looks?"
I had come to the conclusion by this time that Mr. La Vigne was
decidedly as eccentric as his advertisement, and that his vagaries and
personalities were not worth minding or estimating in the consideration
So, when Madame La Vigne replied to his abrupt query, "Oh, very, _very_
much, indeed!" and held out her kind hand to me, I took it without
misgiving, and the first glance we interchanged contained freemasonry.
From that time Colonel Prosper La Vigne fell gracefully back into his
proper position, and I talked away fluently enough with his lady, as he
pompously called his wife. In short, at the end of an hour it was
settled that I was to join them the same evening, at their hotel, and
proceed with them thence to New York, there to take the packet for
Savannah (their first destination) on the same night. The plantation on
which they lived, they informed me, was nearly a day's journey, by
carriage-conveyance, beyond that city, but eligibly situated for health
(though not for productiveness), among a low range of hills known as the
"Les Dernier" Mountains, the name being anglicized into "Less derneer,"
with the accent on the last syllable, so as to metamorphose it
completely to the ear, instead of translating it.
"It is a very lonely place though, Miss Harz, in the winter-time--mamma
ought to tell you that," whispered Marion, the eldest daughter, as she
nestled so closely to me, and looked so kindly in my face, that the
intruding thought of her unwillingness for my society was instantly
banished. "In the summer it is pleasant enough, so many people come to
their cottages in the hills; but, during eight months of the year, we
have but one near neighbor, and not a very social one either."
"From circumstances alone unsocial, Marion," said Madame La Vigne,
flushing slightly (her usual complexion was of a fair sallowness, common
to Southern ladies). "Cousin Celia is certainly devoted at heart to
every one of us, but she cannot, you know, leave home often."
"Oh, I know, mamma! I only meant to keep Miss Harz from being
"Miss Harz has internal resources, I have no doubt," rejoined Madame La
Vigne; "and, even if she had not, I fear her duties would preclude much
longing for excitement.--It is a very onerous task you are undertaking,
my dear young lady, certainly," turning kindly to me. "Five ignorant
little Southern girls, well disposed but imperfectly trained, will fill
your hands to positive overflowing, I fear. You will find me exacting,
too, sometimes. I am sure I shall enjoy your society whenever you
choose to bestow it on me, and Colonel La Vigne as well."
To which declaration on the part of his wife, that gentleman responded
by laying his hand on his breast, complacently, and bowing profoundly
from his chair, ending the ceremony by a flourish of his delicate
cambric handkerchief, and the exhibition at the same time of a slender,
sickly, and peculiarly-shaped hand, decorated with an onyx seal-ring. He
looked the gentleman, however, unmistakably plain and peculiar as his
appearance was, and pompous and pretentious as was his manner.
If words could do the work of the photographer, I should like to show
him to my readers, as he appeared to me on that first interview; though
later his whole aspect underwent a change in my sight, reflected from
the cavernous depths within, so that, what seemed somewhat ludicrous in
the beginning, came to be solemnly serious and even sophistically
tragical and awful on later acquaintance.
We have all more or less witnessed this phenomenon of transformation in
some familiar aspect, either through love or hatred, respect or
contempt, fear or admiration, until we find ourselves marveling at past
impressions, received, in ignorance of the truth, in the commencement of
I remember that Mr. La Vigne struck me on that occasion as a superficial
man in every way, but kindly, courteous, and vivacious, though certainly
eccentric and somewhat absurd. One would have supposed him even a
flippant, whimsical person, seen casually; but, on later examination,
the droop of his eyelids and under lip, and the depressed corners of his
mouth, gave to the close observer a surer indication of his character.
The shape of his narrow, conical, and somewhat elegantly-placed head,
denoted an inclination to fanaticism, which had been skillfully combated
by a perfectly skeptical education, so as to turn this stream of
character into strange channels.
Hobbyism was his infirmity, perhaps, and he was essentially a man of one
idea at a time. The word "odd" applied to him peculiarly, which is in
itself a sort of social ostracism when attached to any one, and raises a
barrier at once between a man and his fellow-bipeds that not even
superiority could surmount.
He was emphatically a tawny man as to coloring--hair, skin, and eyes,
being all pretty much of the same hue of "the ribbed sea-sands." Yet
there were vestiges about him of an originally fair complexion. His
wrists and temples were white as those of a woman. His face was long,
lank, and cadaverous; his eyes shone with a clear, amber, and steady
light, and had an abstracted expression usually, accompanied with a not
unfrequent and most peculiar warp of the pupils.
His hair was singularly shaggy and picturesque in its tawny grayness,
and wavy, wiry length. Above his eyes his heavy brows of the same
texture and color seemed to make a pent-house, from which the high, pale
brow receded gradually; his profile was aquiline to absolute
grotesqueness. The idea of "Punchinello" presented itself irresistibly
at the sight of his parrot-like nose and suddenly-upturned chin.
His gait was as peculiar as his countenance and manner; he glided, in
walking, carrying himself erectly, with his arms closely pinioned to his
sides. He was altogether so extraordinary looking that I felt myself
staring almost rudely at him on our first interview; yet his dress was
in no way remarkable except for an air of old-fashioned and speckless
Madame La Vigne was a pretty and well-preserved woman, of about
thirty-five, a fair brunette, originally, to whom most of her daughters
bore a close resemblance. One alone, the plainest of the band,
presenting a resemblance, most unfortunately for her, of "Colonel La
Vigne," as his wife called him, with scrupulous punctilio.
One son, the eldest of their family, they spoke of as the pride of their
hearts even on that first interview. He was in the navy, and,
consequently, much from home. They regretted this for many reasons, they
said, and, among others, on my account. He was so genial, so
companionable--their own dear Walter--"such a delightful fellow," as his
sister Madge declared exultingly--the second of this band of
sisters--and, as far as I could observe, on first acquaintance, the
brightest. Marion, the elder, was extremely pretty and gentle; and
Bertie, the third, taciturn and unprepossessing, yet evidently sensible.
She it was who alone resembled her father.
* * * * *
Fortunately, for the uninterrupted success of my scheme, Evelyn had one
of her sick turns that day, and remained closely shut up in her room. At
one o'clock, I summoned Franklin to my chamber.
"There is a trunk," I said, "that I wish you would take to the Mansion
House--to the care of a Mr. Somnus lodging there--here is the card
attached, with his name; place it with his baggage. It is to go to New
York, for a Miss Harz, a relation of mine--a teacher, I believe, who has
applied to me for assistance; but he understands all that, so you need
not be at, any trouble to explain. Be quiet, Franklin, in removing it,
as Evelyn is very nervous to-day, and dislikes noise; and go with the
drayman yourself to insure its safe delivery."
So passed my first lesson in deception, but I schooled lip and eye to
obedience, so that Franklin suspected nothing, and, being a discreet
servant, who never let his right hand know what his left was doing,
especially when gold crossed the palm, I was sure of silence on the
subject, at least until after my own departure.
Mabel and I dined _tete-a-tete_ at two; I had caused dinner to be served
earlier than usual for my own convenience, though indeed I found it a
mere form--for how could I swallow a morsel, choked as I was with grief,
while the fair child I worshipped, yet was forsaking, sat so calmly and
unconsciously in my sight!
After dinner I sought Mrs. Austin, leading Mabel by the hand. I had been
kissing her, almost wildly, every foot of the way up-stairs, and she
gazed on me, I could not help perceiving, with a sort of fond surprise,
for it was not my habit to lavish such passionate caresses, even on her,
"I am obliged to go out now," I said, in a broken voice, which I vainly
tried to command. "Take our darling, Mrs. Austin, and keep her very
safely until I come again. Promise me this!" I added, eagerly seizing
"La! Miss Miriam, what's the use of promising for one afternoon, when I
have taken the best of care of her all her life? You act so singularly
to-day!" she added, pettishly, and she began to smooth Mabel's hair,
grumblingly. I turned away without another word, murmuring blessings in
my heart on that dear head.
There was no time to be lost now! The carriage was already at the door
of the Mansion House to convey us to the steamboat when I reached it,
and Colonel La Vigne standing, rather anxiously, on the pavement,
looking up and down.
"I was afraid you had rued your promise and were not coming," said
Marion, springing forth from the door-way eagerly, to greet me.
"And we had forgotten to ask your address," added Madame La Vigne, "or
we might have called for you, and saved you a long walk, perhaps."
"We should not have carried off your trunk, even had you not appeared,
Miss Harz," said Colonel La Vigne, blandly. "There it is you see,
distinctly labeled, on the baggage-wagon in front, directed to the care
of 'Mr. Somnus!'--a good deal of waggery about you, I perceive, or had
you forgotten my name?"
"No, no! I had reasons--but, you remember, no questions were to be
asked; you must wait for voluntary communications."
"I am so glad--so glad you are going with us!" said little Louey La
Vigne, pressing my hand, as she sat before me in the carriage by Aunt
Felicite, her nurse--Colonel La Vigne and three of his daughters having
been consigned to another hack--Louey and her sable attendant, stately
with her large gold ear-hoops, and brilliant cotton handkerchief, being
inseparable accompaniments of his wife.
"I have banished Mr. La Vigne, I fear," I said, in a broken voice; "it
would have been best for me, perhaps, to have gone with the young
ladies. Let me begin at once."
"No, it is much best as it is," she answered, affectionately; "think of
yourself just now, and take no charge until we all get home. You are
our guest until then, remember. I know it is a sad trial to go with
strangers, but you will find us friends, I hope;" and she clasped my
hand in hers, and so held it until we reached the wharf.
Tears rained down my face, beneath the friendly shelter of my veil, but
Madame La Vigne, with the tact of good-breeding, affected not to remark
them. Once little Louey, a child of eight years old, the youngest and
prettiest of all, leaned forward, as if to soothe or question me, but
she was plucked quickly back into her place by the decorous Aunt
Felicite, who had not lived so long with quality without acquiring some
delicacy of behavior, at least, even if it struck no deeper root.
I had commanded myself, before the carriage stopped beside the panting
steamboat, and soon we were gliding along the placid river toward the
point whence the railroad was to carry us on to our goal. At New York,
we found ourselves hurried for time to reach the packet Magnolia, and
went directly from the depot to the quay, for embarkation.
By the pilot, who left us at the Narrows, I sent back a few lines to
Mabel, also enjoining him, with the gift of a piece of gold, to mail my
letters on the following day, and receiving his promise to do so.
In this brief communication, I promised my dear child that we should
meet at my majority, and enjoined her to patience. "You will hear from
me again before long," I said, in conclusion; "and I will try and
arrange some plan of correspondence. Bad people have obliged me to this
step. Do not forget me, my darling, nor my lessons and counsel, and
believe ever in the honor and devotion of your sister. _Pray for me,
My letter to Evelyn Erie, without date, written on the ship, and sent
back by the pilot to be mailed also at New York, revealed my
acquaintance with a portion of her duplicity, and Mr. Bainrothe's dark
I promised her my forgiveness on two conditions alone: one was, that she
should not seek to trace me, since all effort to regain me would be
fruitless; another, that she would be kind to Mabel, and my father's
ancient servants until my return, and, of these last, especially Morton.
I uttered no threats nor reproaches--asked no favors, beyond those which
I had a right to demand at her hands as my father's ward--long supported
by him, and even cherished with paternal tenderness--and the guardian of
his child. I knew that the use of my house and furniture would amply
compensate her for all Mabel's expenses, among the principal of which
would be that liberal education which I demanded for her, as her right.
I was very nearly twenty, now; Mabel, ten. There was still time to
redeem the past, and carry out all my frustrated intentions, after the
expiration of one year of abeyance and exile. Yes! I would "stand and
wait," trusting so "to serve."
_LIFE AT "LESDERNIER."_
"Break the dance and scatter the song,
Some depart, and some remain;
_These_ beyond heaven are borne along,
Others the bonds of earth retain."
_LIFE AT "LESDERNIER."_
I purpose here to give only a brief sketch of my sojourn under the roof
of the La Vignes. In another book, and at another time, when some that
now live shall have passed away, or years shall have made dim the memory
of results rather than events (for until _then_ the last must continue,
with their causes, to be _mysteries_), I may unfold the tissues of a
dire tragedy enacted, by some strange providence, under my peculiar view
alone, and thus inexplicable to others.
Of this no more, not even a hint, at present; lest, dropping the
substance for the shadow, the reader should cease to find interest where
I most wish to concentrate it for a season. The heroine so far of my own
story, I cannot yet voluntarily relinquish the privilege of sympathy, so
dear to the narrator of adventure, though I did, indeed, for a time
forget my own identity in the dark shadow, the mysterious crimes, the
unprecedented and speedy retributions that followed quickly on the heels
of guilt at Beauseincourt.
The picturesque old place, with its quaint French name and architecture
and antique furniture, did truly at first enchant my fancy (which
learned to shudder at its aspect later), as did, in the beginning, the
contiguous estates of "Bellevue" with its exquisite grounds, fountains,
and white-stuccoed mansion closely simulating the finest Italian marble.
Later, in accordance with the law of associations, this, too, became as
sorrowful in my sight as was the Hall of Vathek to those who mingled in
its mournful yet magnificent pageantry.
The denizens of this lonely abode were a most interesting couple. Still
young comparatively, virtually childless, and bearing the name (also a
Huguenot appellation) of "_Favraud_" the husband was bright,
intelligent, frivolous--the wife, an invalid of rare loveliness and
sweetness of character, who seldom emerged from her solitude. Both were
perfectly well bred.
These were relatives of Colonel La Vigne, whose son Walter was the
residuary legatee of Bellevue, with but one imbecile life, after that of
Madame Favraud, between him and enormous wealth. Great intimacy existed
between the families, although from circumstances--nameless here--the
ladies seldom met, and never at Bellevue.
Major Favraud was a constant visitor at Beauseincourt, when on his
estates. He was, however, of a roving disposition, and, though tenderly
attached to his wife, was often absent, negligent, and careless of her
feelings. He was a renowned duelist, and deemed a challenge the
essential element and result of every unsettled discussion. A typical
Southerner of his day, I felt keen interest in the scrutiny of his
character, until events developed those venomous tendencies which came
very near destroying my peace of mind forever, with the life of the
noble man whom, after a brief acquaintance, I had learned to love
against my own desires.
The occasion of this belligerent demonstration was afforded at the
Christmas festival, held yearly at Beauseincourt, by Colonel and Mrs. La
Vigne--in the great, many-windowed drawing-room with its waxed
parquet--its ebony-framed mirrors, its pier consoles, and faded damask
There were assembled around the bright pine-fire, on the occasion of
this universal anniversary, neighbors, and guests from a distance,
invited specially for a certain number of days, among whom the
unexpected advent of a troop of engineers, of Northern extraction, made
a desirable variety.
One of these gentlemen only, the chief-engineer, who came to make new
roads for Lesdernier, by order of government, had already been a
visitor of some weeks, and a strong attachment, vital from the first,
had sprung up between us; so far, unacknowledged by either.
During the dessert which succeeded the sumptuous Christmas-dinner, where
old and young took part, and "all went merry as a marriage-bell," the
health of John C. Calhoun, then heading the nullification party, was
formally proposed by Colonel La Vigne, as "first of men, and greatest of
This toast Captain Wentworth (the chief of the corps of engineers)
tacitly refused to drink, and was seconded in this resolve by all of his
party. There was, however, no active demonstration of unwillingness.
The representatives of government contented themselves with pressing
their hands above their glasses, and so refusing to fill them with the
wine that flowed freely to the welcome pledge, standing rigidly and
silently while it was drunk with enthusiasm by the remaining guests--all
Southern and sectional.
This defalcation to the common cause was apparently unnoticed at the
time, but was made the subject of remark, and subsequently of a
challenge by the Mars of the family, as Gregory denominated Major
Favraud--a challenge which circumstances compelled Captain Wentworth
reluctantly to accept.
No fire-eater, yet truly brave, he weighed the matter well, and decided
on his course; the one most expedient, if not absolutely necessary for a
stranger whose character for courage had still to be proved. In the
interval of the pending duel, of which all the inmates of Beauseincourt
were unconscious, save its master, who considered it as a mere matter of
course, Gregory (to whom I have alluded, the evil genius of the house
henceforth) arrived to reenforce the engineering corps.
Subtle, accomplished, versatile, graceful even in his singular
homeliness, and peculiar insolent style of address, he yet made himself
so acceptable to the family as to dare to seek the hand of the second
daughter of Colonel La Vigne, and, though at first tolerated by her
parents only, at last came to be well received.
At the very time that he was enlisting the innocent heart of Madge, he
was making to me, the governess, whenever he could find the slightest
opportunity, avowals of a desperate and audacious passion, which waxed
the stronger for the absolute loathing vouchsafed in return. In this
place it may be as well to reveal the end of this ill-fated and
unsuitable courtship, which never had my sanction, nor even toleration.
When the cloud gathered over Beauseincourt, so soon to burst in fury and
destruction, when ruin was imminent, Gregory withdrew on frivolous
pretexts, and turned his back on Lesdernier, and her who had so loved
While pretending to be the devoted friend and even abject servant of
Captain Wentworth, he was seeking, in every way, and on every hand,
secretly to undermine him. This effort produced in my mind only mistrust
and disdain; but with others it was, unfortunately, more successful.
Soon after my arrival at Lesdernier, I found, in one of the papers that
I had ordered to be sent there from my native city to the address of
"Miss Harz," an atrocious advertisement, describing me personally as an
escaped lunatic, and offering a reward for my apprehension. Fortunately,
these papers were not objects of interest to the family in which I found
myself, where periodicals of all sorts were rife, as well as books,
ancient and modern, and newspapers were thick as leaves in Vallambrosa.
In the silence of my chamber I read and destroyed, or concealed this
evidence of enmity, malice, and all uncharitableness. I would trust no
one with my identity--none save God--until the hour should come of my
majority and emancipation; then, armed with Judaic vengeance, I would
return to claim my sister, my fortune, and my rights.
Soon afterward I read in the same sheet, sent weekly to Lesdernier, the
notice of the marriage of Claude Bainrothe and Evelyn Erle. This was the
test of truth! I bore it bravely. Not a heart-beat gave tribute to the
love of other days. The fire was dead, and ashes alone remained on the
deserted hearth-stone. Lower down in the columns of the same paper,
however, was something that smote my soul. The Parthian dart was there,
and it quivered in its target! I saw that the wedding-party had sailed
for Europe on the same day of the nuptials, to be absent a year, and had
taken with them my dear one!
So far away! Seas rolling between us! Foreign lands, foreign laws
intervening, which might, for all I knew, deprive me of her presence
forever, who was my hope, my life!
"O little sister," I groaned, "was I right, after all, in forsaking you
for a season? Should I not have dared every thing, rather than have so
openly yielded my authority?"
* * * * *
In the mean while, the sanguinary preparations went silently on. In the
gray of a foggy February morning the duel was fought, and Captain
Wentworth fell, as it was at first thought, mortally wounded.
At the request of his excellent physician, Dr. Durand, when the watchers
were exhausted, and vigilance was all-essential in his case, I accepted,
rather than proposed to take, the post of watcher for one night, in
company with his devoted friend and coadjutor Edward Vernon, and
discovered, in my anguish, and in my power over his distracted senses,
my so-far-hidden gift of magnetism.
Insomnolency was destroying him; opiates had been tried in vain to
compose him, and now, under my waving fingers and strained will, he
slept the sweet, refreshing magnetic slumber. He lived, some were
pleased to say, and among others, his physician, through my agency--my
admirable nursing--for none save Vernon ever knew the secret of my sway.
We became engaged during his convalescence, simply, quietly,
In due time we made our troth-plight known to the household of
Beauseincourt, all of whom, from its formal master to my best-beloved,
brightest, and ever-tantalizing pupil, Bertie, accorded me their
heart-felt congratulations. Gregory alone--the evil genius of the
place--cast his poisonous sneers and doubts above our happiness--a
structure too firmly based, too far removed from him, however, for his
arrows to reach or destroy. Circumstances seemed later to favor his
malicious designs, as shall be shown in the conclusion of this work;
but, together, and in the full flush of our happiness, we were
A sudden summons from the seat of government compelled Captain Wentworth
to leave Lesdernier a few hours after its reception--hours of which he
passed, through the necessity of speedy preparation, but one with me. So
far I had delayed the revelation of my true history and name, preferring
to postpone this to my majority and our marriage-day; but, after his
departure, I rued my resolution, and concluded to write to him a hasty
summary of my life and motives of action. This letter was, as a matter
of necessity, confided to the care of Luke Gregory (never a chosen
depositary of mine in any way), who followed him to Savannah to receive
some parting instructions for the conduct of their work, and who was to
return to Lesdernier after the interval of a week.
In the ardor of my impulse, I could not slight an opportunity of so soon
receiving a reply to my somewhat startling and, I felt now,
too-long-delayed communication, and thus testing my lover's trust and
confidence in me. When Gregory returned to Beauseincourt, he assured me
he had delivered my letter punctually (I never doubted this, for he knew
the man he had to deal with), adding, carelessly, that it was well
Wentworth had said he would write soon, as he had been unfortunate
enough to lose the hastily-pencilled reply, with his own pocket-book, at
the Lenoir Landing, where both were food for fishes.
My disappointment was extreme, and many weeks of constrained silence
passed before I received the promised letter from Captain Wentworth--so
gloomy, so incomprehensible, so portentous, that it filled me with
despair. In this letter he spoke of obstacles between us--in which blood
bore part--of the wreck of all earthly happiness for him--perchance for
me. Yet he conjured me to be calm and patient, as he could not be, and
alluded to my silence as conclusive of his misery. He referred
frequently to the letter he had intrusted to the care of Gregory as
explanatory of all that might otherwise seem inexplicable--that letter
at rest beneath the dark waters of the Bayou Noir--if--if, indeed! But
no! not even of Gregory could I harbor on slight grounds such
suspicions. "Let the devil himself have the full benefit of--doubt!"
says Rabelais. I wrote to Wentworth that I would come and make all
plain, as he desired, in June.
Suffering severely myself, I saw clouds gathering and rising around a
happy household that for a time drew me from the depths of my own
affliction in the vain effort to solace their woes.
Father and son and infant in one house, wife and imbecile daughter in
another, at last fell at one dread swoop. To dishonor was added the
crime of suicide, and poverty and breaking hearts were there, for the
heritage of Beauseincourt was, by reason of debt and mismanagement, to
pass, after the death of its master, into strange hands--the cruel hands
Walter La Vigne was dead, and the succession of Bellevue passed over the
daughters of the house, to vest in a distant kinsman. He came, toward
the last of my stay, to take his own; and, unexpectedly, George Gaston,
the playmate of my childhood, the lover of my first youth, stood before
me in the residuary legatee of Armand La Vigne!
His advent was a revelation of my secret, through the necessity of
surprise; and as, when the banquet is announced and the ball draws near
its close, the maskers, so far unknown to each other, lay by their
disguises, glad to be so relieved, draw breath and clasp hands once more
in the freedom of social reality, so I, who had played too long a weary
part, felt a new life infused into my veins when my mask was suddenly
laid aside, and the necessity of disguise was over.
The time was so near at hand now, I felt, when I could claim my own from
Bainrothe, and cast off all shackles of guardianship and minority, that
I no longer feared the consequences of this revelation. In September we
should meet on new ground. I, no more a minor, would be beyond the reach
of his subtle mastery; and, until then--the time assigned for the
expiration of his year of trust--he would remain in Europe, with the
wide sea between us, and little probability of information through the
medium of public rumor.
I would be secret, cautious, abide in the shadow, until the hour arrived
to emerge therefrom, and, with the aid of God and Wardour Wentworth,
defeat his schemes and vindicate the truth!
Alas for human foresight! Alas for Fate!
[Footnote 1: Pronounced popularly "_Less der-neer_."]
_SEA AND SHORE_
"No fears hath she! Her giant form
Majestically calm would go
O'er wrathful surge, through blackening storm,
'Mid the deep darkness, white as snow!
So stately her bearing, so proud her array,
The main she will traverse forever and aye!
Many ports shall exult in the gleam of her mast--
Hush! hush! thou vain dreamer, this hour is her last!"
WILSON, "_Isle of Palms_."
* * * * *
"Then hold her
Strictly confined in sombre banishment,
And doubt not but she will ere long, full gladly,
Her freedom purchase at the price you name."
* * * * *
"No, subtle snake!
It is the baseness of thy selfish mind,
Full of all guile, and cunning, and deceit,
That severs us so far, and shall do _ever_."
* * * * *
"Despair shall give me strength--where is the door?
Mine eyes are dark! I cannot find it now.
O God! protect me in this awful pass!"
JOANNA BAILLIE, _Tragedy of "Orra."_
_SEA AND SHORE_.
It was a calm and hazy morning of Southern summer that on which I turned
my face seaward from the "keep" of Beauseincourt, never, I knew, to see
its time-stained walls again, save through the mirage of memory. There
is an awe almost as solemn to me in a consciousness like this as that
which attends the death-bed parting, and my straining eye takes in its
last look of a familiar scene as it might do the ever-to-be-averted face
The refrain of Poe's even then celebrated poem was ringing through my
brain on that sultry August day, I remember, like a tolling bell, as I
looked my last on the gloomy abode of the La Vignes; but I only said
aloud, in answer to the sympathizing glances of one who sat before
me--the gentle and quiet Marion--who had suddenly determined to
accompany me to Savannah, nerved with unwonted impulse:
"Madame de Stael was right when she said that 'nevermore' was the
saddest and most expressive word in the English tongue" (so harsh to her
ears, usually). "I think she called it the sweetest, too, in sound; but
to me it is simply the most sorrowful, a knell of doom, and it fills my
soul to-day to overflowing, for 'never, never more' shall I look on
"You cannot tell, Miss Harz, what _time_ may do; you may still return to
visit us in our retirement, you and Captain Wentworth," urged Marion,
gently, leaning forward, as she spoke, to take my hand in hers.
"'Time the tomb-builder'" fell from my lips ere they were aware. "That
is a grand thought--one that I saw lately in a Western poem, the
New-Year's address of a young editor of Kentucky called Prentice. Is it
not splendid, Marion?"
"Very awful, rather," she responded, with a faint shudder. "Time the
'comforter,' let us say, instead, Miss Miriam--Time the
"Why, Marion, you are quite poetic to-day, quite Greek! That is a sweet
and tender saying of yours, and I shall garner it. I stand reproved, my
child. All honor to Time, the _merciful_, whether he builds palaces or
tombs! but none the less do I reverence my young poet for that
stupendous utterance of his soul. I shall watch the flight of that
eaglet of the West with interest from this hour! May he aspire!"
"Not if he is a Jackson Democrat?" broke in the usually gentle Alice
Durand, fired with a ready defiance of all heterodox policy, common, if
not peculiar, to that region.
"Oh, but he is not; he is a good Whig instead--a Clay man, as we call
"Not a Calhoun man, though, I suppose, so I would not give a snap of my
fingers for him or his poetry! It is very natural, for you, Miss Harz,"
in a somewhat deprecating tone, "to praise your partisans. I would not
have you neutral if I could, it is so contemptible."
A little of the good doctor's spirit there, under all that exterior of
meekness and modesty, I saw at a glance, and liked her none the less for
it, if truth were told. And now we were nearing the gate, with its
gray-stone pillars, on one of which, that from which the marble ball had
rolled, to hide in the grass beneath, perchance, until the end of all, I
had seen the joyous figure of Walter La Vigne so lightly poised on the
occasion of my last exodus from Beauseincourt. A moment's pause, and the
difficult, disused bolts that had once exasperated the patience of
Colonel La Vigne were drawn asunder, and the clanking gates clashed
behind us as we emerged from the shadowed domain into the glare and dust
of the high-road.
Here Major Favraud, accompanied by Duganne, awaited us, seated in state
in his lofty, stylish swung gig (with his tiny tiger behind), drawn
tandem-wise by his high-stepping and peerless blooded bays, Castor and
Pollux. Brothers, like the twins of Leda, they had been bred in the
blue-grass region of Kentucky and the vicinity of Ashland, and were
worthy of their ancient pedigree, their perfect training and classic
names, the last bestowed when he first became their owner, by Major
Favraud, who, with a touch of the whip or a turn of the hand, controlled
them to subjection, fiery coursers although they were!
Dr. Durand, too, with his spacious and flame-lined gig, accompanied by
his son, a lad of sixteen, awaited our arrival, and served to swell the
cavalcade that wound slowly down the dusty road, with its sandy surface
and red-clay substratum. A few young gentlemen on horseback completed
Major Favraud sat holding his ribbons gracefully in one gauntleted
hand, while he uncovered his head with the other, bowing suavely in his
knightly fashion, as he said:
"Come drive with me, Miss Harz, for a while, and let the young folks
take it together."
"Oh, no, Major Favraud; you must excuse me, indeed! I feel a little
languid this morning, and I should be poor company. Besides, I cannot
surrender my position as one of the young folks yet."
"Nay, I have something to say to you--something very earnest. You shall
be at no trouble to entertain me; but you must not refuse a poor, sad
fellow a word of counsel and cheer. I shall think hard of you if you
decline to let me drive you a little way. Besides, the freshness of the
morning is all lost on you there. Now, set Marion a good example, and
she will, in turn, enliven me later."
So adjured, I consented to drive to the Fifteen-mile House with Major
Favraud, and Duganne glided into the coach in my stead, to take my place
and play _vis-a-vis_ to Sylphy, who, as usual, was selected as
traveling-companion on this occasion, "to take kear of de young ladies."
"I am so glad I have you all to myself once more, Miss Harz! I feel now
that we are fast friends again. And I wanted to tell you, while I could
speak of her, how much my poor wife liked you. (The time will come when
I must not, _dare_ not, you know.) But for circumstances, she would have
urged you to become our guest, or even in-dweller; but you know how it
all was! I need not feign any longer, nor apologize either."
"It must have been that she saw how lovely and _spirituelle_ I found
_her_," I said, "and could not bear to be outdone in consideration, nor
to owe a debt of social gratitude. She knew so little of me. But these
affinities are electric sometimes, I must believe."
"Yes, there is more of that sort of thing on earth, perhaps, 'than is
dreamed of in our philosophy'--antagonism and attraction are always
going on among us unconsciously."
"I am inclined to believe so from my own experience," I replied,
vaguely, thinking, Heaven knows, of any thing at the moment rather than
of him who sat beside me.
"Your mind is on Wentworth, I perceive," he said, softly; after a short
pause, "now give up your dream for a little while and listen to this
sober reality--sober to-day, at least," he added, with a light laugh.
"By-the-way, talking of magnetism, do you know, Miss Harz, I think you
are the most universally magnetic woman I ever saw? All the men fall in
love with you, and the women don't hate you for it, either."
"How perfectly the last assertion disproves the first!" I replied; "but
I retract, I will not, even for the sake of a syllogism, abuse my own
sex; women are never envious except when men make them so, by casting
down among them the golden apple of admiration."
"I know one man, at least, who never foments discord in this way!
Wentworth, from the beginning, had eyes and ears for no one but
yourself, yet I never dreamed the drama would be enacted so speedily; I
own I was as much in the dark as anybody."
I could not reply to this _badinage_, as in happier moments I might have
done, but said, digressively:
"By-the-by, while I think of it, I must put down on my tablet the order
of Mr. Vernon. He wants 'Longfellow's Poems,' if for sale in Savannah.
He has been permeating his brain with the 'Psalms of Life,' that have
come out singly in the _Knickerbocker Magazine,_ until he craves every
thing that pure and noble mind has thrown forth in the shape of a song."
And I scribbled in my memorandum-book, for a moment, while Major Favraud
"Longfellow!" he said, at last, "Phoebus, what a name!" adding
affectedly, "yet it seems to me, on reflection, I _have_ heard it
before. He is a Yankee, of course! Now, do you earnestly believe a
native of New England, by descent a legitimate witch-burner, you know,
_can_ be any thing better than a poll-parrot in the poetical line?"
"Have we not proof to the contrary, Major Favraud?"
"What proof? Metre and rhyme, I grant you--long and short--but show me
the afflatus! They make verse with a penknife, like their wooden
nutmegs. They are perfect Chinese for ingenuity and imitation, and the
resemblance to the real Simon-pure is very perfect--externally. But when
it comes to grating the nut for negus, we miss the aroma!"
"Do you pretend that Bryant is not a poet in the grain, and that the
wondrous boy, Willis, was not also 'to the manner born?' Read
'Thanatopsis,' or are you acquainted with it already? I hardly think you
can be. Read those scriptural poems."
"A very smooth school-exercise the first, no more. There is not a
heart-beat in the whole grind. As to Willis--he failed egregiously, when
he attempted to 'gild refined gold and paint the lily,' as he did in his
so-called 'Sacred Poems.' He can spin a yarn pretty well, and coin a new
word for a make-shift, amusingly, but save me from the foil-glitter of
his poetry." 
"This is surprising! You upset all precedent. I really wish you had not
said these things. I now begin to see the truth of what my copy-book
told me long ago, that 'evil association corrupts good manners,' or I
will vary it and substitute 'opinions.' I must eschew your society, in a
literary way, I must indeed, Major Favraud."
"Now comes along this strolling Longfellow minstrel," he continued,
ignoring or not hearing my remark, "with _his_ dreary hurdy-gurdy to cap
the climax. Heavens! what a nasal twang the whole thing has to me. Not
an original or cheerful note! 'Old Hundred' is joyful in comparison!"
"You shall not say that," I interrupted; "you shall not dare to say that
in my presence. It is sheer slander, that you have caught up from some
malignant British review, and, like all other serpents, you are venomous
in proportion to your blindness! I am vexed with you, that you will not
see with the clear, discerning eyes God gave you originally."
"But I do see with them, and very discerningly, notwithstanding your
comparison. Now there is that 'Skeleton in Armor,' his last effusion, I
believe, that you are all making such a work over--fine-sounding thing
enough, I grant you, ingenious rhyme, and all that. But I know where the
framework came from! Old Drayton furnished that in his 'Battle of
Agincourt.'" Then in a clear, sonorous voice, he gave some specimens of
each, so as to point the resemblance, real or imaginary.
"You are content with mere externs in finding your similitudes, Major
Favraud! In power of thought, beauty of expression, what comparison is
there? Drayton's verse is poor and vapid, even mean, beside
"I grant you that. I have never for one moment disputed the ability of
those Yankees. Their manufacturing talents are above all praise, but
when it comes to the 'God-fire,' as an old German teacher of mine used
to say, our simple Southern poets leave them all behind--'Beat them all
hollow,' would be their own expression. You see, Miss Harz, that
Cavalier blood of ours, that inspired the old English bards, _will_
tell, in spite of circumstances."
"But genius is of no rank--no blood--no clime! What court poet of his
day, Major Favraud, compared with Robert Burns for feeling, fire, and
pathos? Who ever sung such siren strains as Moore, a simple Irishman of
low degree? No Cavalier blood there, I fancy! What power, what beauty in
the poems of Walter Scott! Byron was a poet in spite of his condition,
not because of it. Hear Barry Cornwall--how he stirs the blood! What
trumpet like to Campbell! What mortal voice like to Shelley's? the
hybrid angel! What full orchestra surpassed Coleridge for harmony and
brilliancy of effect? Who paints panoramas like Southey? Who charms like
Wordsworth? Yet these were men of medium condition, all--I hate the
conceits of Cowley, Waller, Sir John Suckling, Carew, and the like. All
of your Cavalier type, I believe, a set of hollow pretenders mostly."
"All this is overwhelming, I grant," bowing deferentially. "But I return
to my first idea, that Puritan blood was not exactly fit to engender
genius; and that in the rich, careless Southern nature there lurks a
vein of undeveloped song that shall yet exonerate America from the
charge of poverty of genius, brought by the haughty Briton! Yes, we will
sing yet a mightier strain than has ever been poured since the time of
Shakespeare! and in that good time coming weave a grander heroic poem
than any since the days of Homer! Then men's souls shall have been
tried in the furnace of affliction, and Greek meets not Greek, but
Yankee. For we Southerners _only bide our time_!"
And he cut his spirited lead-horse, until it leaped forward suddenly, as
though to vent his excitement, and, setting his small white teeth
sternly, with an eye like a burning coal, looked forward into space, his
whole face contracting.
"The Southern lyre has been but lightly swept so far, Miss Harz," he
continued, a moment later, "and only by the fingers of love; we need
Bellona to give tone to our orchestra."
I could not forbear reciting somewhat derisively the old couplet--
"'Sound the trumpet, beat the drum,
Tremble France, we come, we come!'
"Is that the style Major Favraud?" I asked. "I remember the time when I
thought these two lines the most soul-stirring in the language--they
seem very bombastic now, in my maturity."
He smiled, and said: "The time is not come for our war-poem, and, as for
love, let me give you one strain of Pinckney's to begin with;" and,
without waiting for permission, he recited the beautiful "Pledge," with
which all readers are now familiar, little known then, however, beyond
the limits of the South, and entirely new to me, beginning with--
"I fill this cup to one made up
Of loveliness alone,
A woman of her gentle sex
The seeming paragon"--
continuing to the end with eloquence and spirit.
"Now, that is poetry, Miss Harz! the real afflatus is there; the bead on
the wine; the dew on the rose; the bloom on the grape! Nothing wanting
that constitutes the indefinable divine thing called genius! You
understand my idea, of course; explanations are superfluous."
I assented mutely, scarce knowing why I did so.
"Now, hear another." And the woods rang with his clear, sonorous accents
as he declaimed, a little too scanningly, perhaps--too much like an
"Love lurks upon my lady's lip,
His bow is figured there;
Within her eyes his arrows sleep;
His fetters are--her hair!"
"I call that nothing but a bundle of conceits, Major Favraud, mostly of
the days of Charles II., of Rochester himself--" interrupting him as I
in turn was interrupted.
"But hear further," and he proceeded to the end of that marvelous
ebullition of foam and fervor, such as celebrated the birth of Aphrodite
herself perchance in the old Greek time; and which, despite my perverse
intentions, stirred me as if I had quaffed a draught of pink champagne.
Is it not, indeed, all _couleur de rose?_ Hear this bit of melody, my
reader, sitting in supreme judgment, and perhaps contempt, on your
"'Upon her cheek the crimson ray
By changes comes and goes,
As rosy-hued Aurora's play
Along the polar snows;
Gay as the insect-bird that sips
From scented flowers the dew--
Pure as the snowy swan that dips
Its wings in waters blue;
Sweet thoughts are mirrored on her face,
Like clouds on the calm sea,
And every motion is a grace,
Each word a melody!'"
"Yes, that is true poetry, I acknowledge, Major Favraud," I exclaimed,
not at all humbled by conviction, though a little annoyed at the pointed
manner in which he gave (looking in my face as he did so) these
"Say from what fair and sunny shore,
Fair wanderer, dost thou rove,
Lest what I only should adore
I heedless think to love?"
"The character of Pinckney's genius," I rejoined, "is, I think,
essentially like that of Praed, the last literary phase with me--for I
am geological in my poetry, and take it in strata. But I am more
generous to your Southern bard than you are to our glorious Longfellow!
I don't call that imitation, but coincidence, the oneness of genius! I
do not even insinuate plagiarism." My manner, cool and careless,
steadied his own.
"You are right: our 'Shortfellow' _was_ incapable of any thing of the
sort. Peace be to his ashes! With all his nerve and _vim_, he died of
melancholy, I believe. As good an end as any, however, and certainly
highly respectable. But you know what Wordsworth says in his
"'If there is one that may bemoan
His kindred laid in earth,
The household hearts that were his own,
It is the man of mirth.'"
He sighed as he concluded his quotation--sighed, and slackened the pace
of his flying steeds. "But give me something of Praed's in return," he
said, rallying suddenly; "is there not a pretty little thing called 'How
shall I woo her?'" glancing archly and somewhat impertinently at me, I
thought--or, perhaps, what would simply have amused me in another man
and mood shocked me in him, the recent widower--widowed, too, under such
peculiar and awful circumstances! I did not reflect sufficiently,
perhaps, on his ignorance of many of these last.
How I deplored his levity, which nothing could overcome or restrain; and
yet beneath which I even then believed lay depths of anguish! How I
wished that influence of mine could prevail to induce him to divide his
dual nature, "To throw away the worser part of it, and live the purer
with the better half!" But I could only show disapprobation by the
gravity of my silence.
"So you will not give me 'How shall I woo her?' Miss Harz?" a little
embarrassed, I perceived, by my manner. "I have a fancy for the title,
nevertheless, not having heard any more, and should be glad to hear the
whole poem. But you are prudish to-day, I fancy."
"No, there is nothing in that poem, certainly, that angels might not
hear approvingly; but it would sadden you, Major Favraud."
"I will take the chance of that," laughing. "Come, the poem, if you care
to please your driver, and reward his care. See how skillfully I avoided
that fallen branch--suppose I were to be spiteful, and upset you against
Any thing was preferable to his levity; and, as I had warned him of the
possible effect of the poem he solicited, I could not be accused of want
of consideration in reciting it. Besides, he deserved the lesson, the
stern lesson that it taught.
As this could in no way be understood by such of my readers as are
unacquainted with this little gem, I venture to give it here--exquisite,
passionate utterance that it is, though little known to fame, at least
at this, writing:
"'How shall I woo her? I will stand
Beside her when she sings,
And watch her fine and fairy hand
Flit o'er the quivering strings!
But shall I tell her I have heard,
Though sweet her song may be,
A voice where every whispered word
_Was more than song to me_?
"'How shall I woo her? I will gaze,
In sad and silent trance,
On those blue eyes whose liquid rays
Look love in every glance.
But shall I tell her eyes more bright,
Though bright her own may beam,
Will fling a deeper spell to-night
_Upon me in my dream_?'"
I hesitated. "Let me stop here, Major Favraud, I counsel you," I
interpolated, earnestly; but he only rejoined:
"No, no! proceed, I entreat you! it is very beautiful--very touching,
too!" Speaking calmly, and slacking rein, so that the grating of the
wheels among the stems of the scarlet _lychnis_, that grew in immense
patches on our road, might not disturb his sense of hearing, which,
by-the-way, was exquisitely nice and fastidious.
"As you please, then;" and I continued the recitation.
"'How shall I woo her? I will try
The charms of olden time,
And swear by earth, and sea, and sky,
And rave in prose and rhyme--
And I will tell her, when I bent
My knee in other years,
I was not half so _eloquent_;
I could not speak--_for tears_!'"
I watched him narrowly; the spell was working now; the poet's hand was
sweeping, with a gust of power, that harp of a thousand strings, the
wondrous human heart! And I again pursued, in suppressed tones of
heart-felt emotion, the pathetic strain that he had evoked with an idea
of its frivolity alone:
"'How shall I woo her? I will bow
Before the holy shrine,
And pray the prayer, and vow the vow,
And press her lips to mine--And
I will tell her, when she starts
From passion's thrilling kiss,
That _memory_ to many hearts
Is dearer far than bliss!'"
It was reserved for the concluding verse to unnerve him completely; a
verse which I rendered with all the pathos of which I was capable, with
a view to its final effect, I confess:
"'Away! away! the chords are mute,
The bond is rent in twain;
You _cannot_ wake the silent lute,
Or clasp its links again.
Love's toil, I know, is little cost;
Love's perjury is light sin;
But souls that lose what I have lost,
What have they left to win?'"
"What, indeed?" he exclaimed, impetuously--tears now streaming over his
olive cheeks. He flung the reins to me with a quick, convulsive motion,
and covered his face with his hands. Groans burst from his murmuring
lips, and the great deeps of sorrow gave up their secrets. I was sorry
to have so stirred him to the depths by any act or words of mine, and
yet I enjoyed the certainty of his anguish.
I checked the horses beneath a magnolia-tree, and sat quietly waiting
for the flood of emotion to subside as for him to take the initiative. I
had no word to say, no consolation to offer. Nay, after consideration,
rather did I glory in his grief, which redeemed his nature in my
estimation, though grieved in turn to have afflicted him. For, in spite
of all his faults, and my earlier prejudices, I loved this impulsive
Southron man, as Scott has it, "right brotherly."
At last, looking up grave, tearless, and pale, and resuming his reins
without apology for having surrendered them, he said, abruptly:
"All is so vain! Such mockery now to me! She was the sole reality of
this universe to my heart! I grapple with shadows unceasingly. There is
not on the face of this globe a more desolate wretch. You understand
this! You feel for me, you do not deride me! You know how perfect, how
spiritual she was! You loved her well--I saw it in your eyes, your
manner--and for that, if nothing else, you have my heart-felt gratitude.
So few appreciated her unearthly purity. Yet, was it not strange she
should have loved a man so gross, so steeped in sensuous, thoughtless
enjoyment--so remote from God as I am--have ever been? But the song
speaks for me"--waving his gauntleted hand--"better than I can speak:
"'Away! away! the chords are mute,
the bond is rent in twain.'"
"I shall never marry again--never! Miss Miriam, I know now, and shall
know evermore, in all its fullness, and weariness, and bitterness, the
meaning of that terrible word--alone! Eternal solitude. The Robinson
Crusoe of society. A sort of social Daniel Boone. 'Thus you must ever
consider me. And yet, just think of it. Miss Harz!"
"Oh, but you will not always feel so; there may come a time of
reaction." I hesitated. It was not my purpose to encourage change.
"No, never! never!" he interrupted, passionately; "don't even suggest
it--don't! and check me sternly if ever I forget my grief again in
frivolity of any sort in your presence. You are a noble, sweet woman,
with breadth enough of character to make allowances for the shortcomings
of a poor, miserable man like me--trying to cheat himself back into
gayety and the interests of life. I have sisters, but they are not like
you. I wish to Heaven they were! There is not a woman in the world on
whom I have any claims--on whose shoulder I can lean my head and take a
hearty cry. And what are men at such a season? Mocking fiends, usually,
the best of them! I shall go abroad, Miss Harz. I am no anchorite. You
will hear of me as a gay man of the world, perhaps; but, as to being
happy, that can never be again! The bubble of life has burst, and my
existence falls flat to the earth. Victor Favraud, that airy nothing, is
scarcely a 'local habitation and a name' now!"
"Let him make a name, then," I urged. "With military talents like yours,
Major Favraud, the road to distinction will soon be open to you. Our
approaching difficulties with France--"
"Oh, that will all be patched up, or has been, by this time. Van Buren
is a crafty but peace-loving fox! Something of an epicurean, too, in his
high estate. What grim old Jackson left half healed, he will complete
the cure of. Ah, Miss Harz, I had hoped to flesh my sword in a nobler
I knew what he meant. That dream of nullification was still uppermost
in his soul--dispersed, as it was, in the eyes of all reasonable men. I
shook my head. "Thank God! all that is over," I said, gravely,
fervently; "and my prayer to Him is that he may vouchsafe to preserve us
for evermore an unbroken people!"
"May He help Israel when the time comes," he murmured low, "for come it
will, Miss Harz, as surely as there is a sun in the heavens! 'and may I
be there to see!' as John Gilpin said, or some one of him--which was
And, whipping up his lagging steeds as we gained the open road, we
emerged swiftly from the shadows of the forest--between nodding
cornfields, already helmed and plumed for the harvest, and plantations
green with thrifty cotton-plants, with their half-formed bolls,
promising such bounteous yield, and meadows covered with the tufted
Bermuda grass, with its golden-green verdure, we sped our way toward
This peninsula was formed by the junction of two rivers, between which
intervened a narrow point of land, with a background of steep hills,
covered with a growth of black-jack and yellow-pine to the summit. Here
was a ferry with its Charon-like boat, of the primitive sort--flat
barge, poled over by negroes, and capable of containing at one time many
bales of cotton, a stagecoach or wagon with four horses, besides
passengers _ad libitum._
This ferry constituted the chief source of revenue of Madame Grambeau,
an old French lady, remarkable in many ways. She kept the stage-house
hard by, with its neat picketed inclosure, its overhanging live-oak
trees and small trim parterre, gay at this season with various annual
flowers, scarce worth the cultivation, one would think, in that land of
gorgeous perennial bloom. But Queen Margarets, ragged robins, variegated
balsams, and tawny marigolds, have their associations, doubtless, to
make them dear and valuable to the foreign heart, to which they seem
essential, wherever a plot of ground be in possession.
Mignonette, I have observed, is a special passion with the French exile,
recalling, doubtless, the narrow boxes, fitted to the stone window-sill
of certain former lofty lodgings across the sea, perhaps, situated in
the heart of some great city, and overlooking roofs and court-yards--the
street being quite out of the question in such a view, distant, as it
seems, from them, as the sky itself, though in an opposite direction.
I have used the word "exile" advisedly with regard to Madame Grambeau,
and not figuratively at all. She was, I had been told, a _bourgeoise_,
of good class, who had taken part in the early revolution, but who, when
the _canaille_ triumphed and drenched the land in blood, in the second
phase of that fearful outburst of volcanic feeling, had fled before the
whirlwind with her child and husband to embark for America. At the point
of embarcation--like Evangeline--the husband and wife had been separated
accidentally, and on her arrival in a strange land she found herself
alone and penniless with her son, scarce six years old. Her husband had
been carried to a Southern port, she learned by the merest chance, and,
disguising herself in man's attire, and leading her little son by the
hand, she set forth in quest of him, carrying with her a violin, which,
together with the clothes she wore, had been found in the trunk of
Monsieur Grambeau, brought on the vessel in which she came, but which
depository she had been obliged to abandon, when setting forth on her
She was no unskillful performer on this instrument, and solely by such
aid she gained her food and lodging to the interior of Georgia. Reaching
her destination after a long and painful journey and delays of many
kinds, she found her husband living in a log-hut, on the border of
Talupa River, a hut which he had built himself, and earning his bread by
ferrying travellers across that stream.
Yet here, with the characteristic contentment of her people under all
circumstances, she settled down quietly to aid him and make his home
happy; bore him many children (most of whom were dead at the time I saw
her, as those living were separated from her at that period), reared and
educated them herself, toiled for and with them, late and early,
strained every nerve in the arduous cause of duty, and found herself, in
extreme old age, widowed and alone, having amassed but little of the
world's lucre, yet cheerful and energetic even if dependent still on her
All this and much more I had heard before I saw Madame Grambeau or her
abode--a picturesque affair in itself, however humble--consisting
originally of a log-house, to which more recently white frame wings had
been attached, projecting a few feet in front of the primitive building,
and connected thereto by a shed-roofed gallery, which embraced the whole
front of the log-cottage, along which ran puncheon-steps the entire
length of the grand original tree-trunk, as of the porch itself. It was
a triumph of rural art.
Over this portico, so low in front as barely to admit the passage of a
tall man beneath its eaves, without stooping, a wild multiflora rose,
then in full flower, was artistically trained so as to present a series
of arches to the eye as the wayfarer approached the dwelling; no
tapestry was ever half so lovely.
The path which led from the little white gate, with its swinging chain
and ball, was covered with river-pebbles and shells, and bordered by
box, trimly clipped and kept low, and the two broad steps, that led to
the porch, bore evidence of recent scouring, though rough and unpainted.
Framed in one of those pointed natural cathedral-windows of vivid green,
gemmed with red roses, of which the division-posts of the porch formed
the white outlines, stood the most remarkable-looking aged woman I have
ever seen. At a first glance, indeed, the question of sex would have
arisen, and been found difficult to decide. Her attire seemed that of a
friar, even to the small scalloped cape that scantily covered her
shoulders, and the coarse black serge, of which her strait gown was
composed, leaving exposed her neatly though coarsely clad feet, with
their snow-white home-knit stockings, and low-quartered, well-polished
calf-skin shoes, confined with steel buckles, and elevated on heels,
then worn by men alone.
She wore a white habit shirt, the collar, bosom, and wristbands of which
were visible; but no cap covered her silver hair, which was cropped in
the neck, and divided at one side in true manly fashion. It was brushed
well back from her expansive, fair, and unwrinkled forehead, beneath
which large blue eyes looked out with that strange solemnity we see
alone in the orbs of young, thoughtful children, or the very old.
Scott's description of the "Monk of Melrose Abbey" occurred to me, as I
gazed on this calm and striking figure:
"And strangely on the knight looked he,
And his blue eyes gleamed wild and wide."
She stood watching our approach, leaning with both hands on her ebony,
silver-headed cane, above which she stooped slightly, her aged and
somewhat severe, but serene face fully turned toward us, in the clear
light of morning, with a grave majesty of aspect.
Above her head in its wicker cage swung the gray and crimson parrot, of
which Sylphy had spoken, and to which, it may be remembered, she had so
irreverently likened her master on one occasion; bursting forth, as it
saw us coming, into a shrill, stereotyped phrase of welcome--"_Bien
venu, compatriote_," that was irresistibly ludicrous and irrelevant.
"Tremble, France! we come--we come," said Major Favraud; "there's your
quotation well applied this time, Miss Harz! It is impressive, after
"Hush! she will hear you," I remonstrated, quite awed in that still,
majestic presence, for now we stood before our aged hostess, who, with a
cold but stately politeness after Major Favraud's salutation and
introduction, waved us in and across her threshold. As for Major
Favraud, he had turned to leave us on the door-sill, to see to the
comfort and safety of his horses; not liking, perhaps, the appearance of
the superannuated ostler, who lounged near the stable of the inn, if