Part 6 out of 9
All further dialogue was cut short by the wild shout that rose from the
crowd, the delusive cry of "A sail, a sail!" and Dunmore rushed with the
rest to descry its myth-like form, if possible. It was some moments
before hope again died down to a flat level of despair.
Too remote for signal or trumpet was that distant, white-winged vessel
gliding securely on its path of peace, unconscious of the extremity of
the mighty steamer it distinguished dimly, no doubt, by the aid of
However this might have been, for the second time on that day of direst
exigency, a ship went by, observed yet unobserving.
Fainter and fainter grew the accents of the fierce, fanatical preacher;
his excitement forsook him as the danger became more and more imminent.
The crowd broke into groups. Pale, stern men, with rigid features, who
had been employed aiding in the construction of the rafts, returned now
to the sides of their wives and children.
Through a vista on the deck I discerned Miss Lamarque, sitting quietly
with her youngest nursling in her arms, beside her brother. His children
and slaves were gathered around her knees. Dunmore was giving her my
message, I could not doubt, from the glances she cast in my direction,
as he stood near by. I knew that he would soon turn to come again, but
my resolution was fixed.
Captain Ambrose, with a face grown old in half a day, gray, abstracted,
wretched, passed and repassed me several times, telescope in hand.
Ralph Maxwell on the round-house kept constant watch, his attitude
dauntless, his face uplifted and keen, field-glass in hand. His
West-Point training stood him in good stead now. Captain Falconer, a
naval officer, had returned to the side of Miss Oscanyan, the woman he
had loved hopelessly for years, and, before the scene closed between us
forever, I saw him clasp her to his bosom; so that trying hour had for
some high spirits its crowning consolations, its solace and reward, and,
whatever else was in store, the martyrdom of love was over.
An eager hand caught my shawl. "He is coming back, coming to persuade
you to leave us," said the young girl; "but you have promised not to
part from us, and I feel that God will remember us if we remain together
firm and fast, we three."
Then the pale widow spoke in turn: "Let me stay beside you too," she
entreated; "it makes me feel stronger, I am so desolate--" and she bowed
her head and wept.
I would have said in the strange, calm bitterness that possessed my
soul: "What value has life to you and your deformed one? Poor, widowed,
sickly, and despised, why should you wish to live? Why encumber me?"
But thoughts like these were not for human utterance now, and we sat
together, hand locked in hand for a time, waiting for the end, as men
may wait in years to come, when the earth is gray with sin, for the
coming of the fiery comet that they know is destined to consume them.
For was not this ship our world, penned in as we were on every side, and
separated from all else by an ocean inexorable and illimitable as space,
and were not we likewise looking forward to a fiery doom--our finite,
perhaps final, day of judgment?
I could understand then, for the first time, how condemned criminals
feel--well, strong, yet dying! I knew how Walter La Vigne, the
self-doomed, had felt, and some passages of Madame Roland's appeal rose
visibly before me, as if written on the air rather than in my memory. I
had read the book at Beauseincourt, and it had powerfully impressed me;
and this, I remember, was the passage that swept across my brain:
"And thou whom I dare not name, wouldst thou mourn to see me preceding
thee to a place where we can love one another without wrong--where
nothing will prevent our union--where all pernicious prejudices, all
arbitrary exclusions, all hateful passions, and all tyranny, are silent?
I shall wait for thee, then, and rest!"
So centred were my dying thoughts on Wentworth--so calmly did I await
the great change that men call sudden death!
All this time--a time much briefer than that I have taken in recounting
my sensations--the glorious summer's sun, the sun of morning, was
bathing the sea; the ship, with beauty, and a soft, fresh breeze, was
fanning every pallid brow with a caressing, silken wing, that seemed to
mock its wretchedness.
I thought not once of Christian Garth. I had ceased to strain my eyes
for a distant sail, to seek to compromise with my fate or make
conditions with my Creator. Dunmore was forgotten. I was composed to
die--not resigned. These things are different; a bitter patience
possessed me that I felt would sustain me to the end, but I was not
satisfied that my doom was just or opportune.
"Farewell, sweet, young, vigorous life!" I moaned aloud. "Farewell,
Miriam! It will not be thou, but a phantom, that shall arise from dead
ashes! Farewell, dear hand, that hast served me long and well!" and I
kissed my own right hand. I had not known until that moment how truly I
loved myself. "Sister, lover, farewell! Mother, father, receive me!
Gentle Constance, reach forth thy guiding hand and lead me to my
parents! Wentworth, remember me! Saviour, my soul is thine!"
I bowed my head. I had no more to say. Unwilling I was to die--afraid I
was not; for, as I sat there, my whole life swept before me, as it is
said to do before the eyes of the drowning, and rapidly as one may sweep
the gamut on a piano with one introverted finger, and I saw myself as
though I had been another. I had done nothing to make me afraid to meet
my God; so, with closed eyes, I lingered in the shadow, conscious of
nothing save exceeding calm, when the grasp of my gentle friend of the
moment aroused me to a sense of what was occurring, and I saw, with
horror indescribable, the fierce flames leaping from the deck, heard the
hoarse shouts, beheld the lurid surging of an agonized and despairing
multitude! But above all rang the clear, trumpet-tones of Captain
Ambrose, soon to sink in death:
"To the boats--to the boats! but save the women first--the children--as
ye are Christian men! So help ye, mighty God!"
I heard later how signally this noble charge was disregarded; how
utterly self triumphed over generosity and duty; and how, in enforcing
the example all should have followed. Captain Ambrose lost his valiant,
valuable life. But this was thought nothing of then, and I sat patiently
down to perish!
It was sunset when I first felt able to sit up beneath the awning of
sails which provident hands had stretched above the central platform
reserved for the occupancy of the women and children, spread thick with
mattresses on the raft, and look about me understandingly.
We were riding smoothly over the long, low, level billows of that summer
sea, sustained beyond their reach on what seemed a rude barn-floor,
composed as this was of the masts, booms, and yards, roughly lashed
together by tarred ropes, no longer needed on the destined ship, and
which had been assigned by the captain for that purpose to Christian
A mast was erected in the front of this hastily-constructed raft, on
three sides of which were breastworks, with strong, loose ropes
attached, so that those who clung to this refuge might support
themselves with comparative safety, or rather have a chance for life,
when our "floating grave" should hang suspended perpendicularly on the
steep side of a mountain-billow, or drift beneath it.
Just below, and surrounding the small, elevated platform on which I
found myself when I revived, stretched on a slender mattress by the side
of my feeble widow and her moaning child, were rows of barrels, firmly
fastened by cleats, so as insure, to some degree, not only the
preservation of our food and water, but to form a sort of bulwark of
protection for those who occupied the central portion of the raft.
The young girl, of whom I have spoken as having attached herself to me
during the last moments of my stay on shipboard, and an old negro woman,
whose crooning hymns made a strange accompaniment to the dashing waters,
and whose stolid tranquillity seemed to reproach my anguish, were our
only companions on the sort of dais assigned to his female passengers by
The man himself, to whom we owed our deliverance, stood near his
primitive mast, trimming his sail carefully, and looking out with his
far-reaching, sagacious ken over the waste of waters, into which the
blood-red, full-orbed sun seemed dipping, suddenly, as for his
A few of the common passengers of the Kosciusko, and a knot of the
seamen, comprising not more than twenty souls, composed the groups,
scattered about the roughly yet securely lashed raft, silent and
observant all, as men who face their doom are apt to be.
I looked in vain for one familiar face, and for a moment regretted that
I had been withheld, as by some spell, for whose weird influence I could
never sufficiently account, from having cast my destiny with theirs, who
were so much nearer to me in station and congeniality of spirit than
those around me. With Miss Lamarque's hand locked in mine, I should have
vied with her, I felt, in cheerful courage; and the knightly calmness of
Dunmore might have sustained my drooping, fainting soul. These were my
peers, and, _with_ them, I should have been better content to be tried.
But the white squall, which had in no way affected us (so small and
partial was the sphere of its influence), had sufficed to separate ours
irretrievably from our companion-raft, and the squadron of boats that
had promised not to forsake us. And now the eye of agony was strained in
vain over the weltering waste, for a vestige of those refugees from the
Kosciusko--buried, perhaps, a thousand fathoms deep, by their sudden
visitors, beneath the waves of that deadly Atlantic sea.
Tears rained over my face as I thought of this probability, and,
hopeless as I was of rescue, the almost certain fate of my
companion-voyagers fell over me like a pall. "Better, perhaps--far
better had it been"--I thought so then--"had we all perished together in
that terrific sheet of flame that rose up like a dividing barrier
between us at the last. Fit emblem of the final day of doom. Our trials
were but begun. What more remained? God in heaven only knew!"
And rapidly, and in panoramic succession, all the fearful adventures of
raft and boat that I had ever read of, or heard related, passed across
my mind, ending with that latest, and perhaps the most fearful of
all--the wreck of the Medusa!
The night came down serene and beautiful. As the sun disappeared in
ocean, up rose the full-orbed moon--crimson and magnified by surrounding
vapors--that to the practised eye portended future tempest, calm as the
ocean and the heavens then seemed.
The constellations, singularly distinct and splendid, had the power to
fix and fascinate my vision--never felt before--as they shone above me,
clear and crystalline as enthroned in space--judges, and spectators,
cold and pitiless as it seemed to me, in the strangeness and forlornness
of my condition--Arcturus, and the Ursas, great and little, and Lyra,
and the Corona Borealis, Berenice, and Hydra, and Cassiopea's chair;
these and many more. I marked them all with a calm scrutiny that belongs
to terror in some phases. The stars seemed mocking eyes that
night--smiling and safe in heaven--the moon, a cold and cruel enemy with
her vapory train, so grandly sailing across the cloudless heaven--so
careless of our fate--the wreck of a ruined world as many deem
her--veiling in light her inward desolation.
A faint and vapory comet lurked on the horizon--like a ghastly
messenger--scarcely discernible to the human eyes, yet vaguely ominous
and suggestive--a spirit-ship it might be--watching in silence to bear
away the souls of those lost at sea!
There was deep stillness--unbroken, save by the lapping and plashing
waters. Even the crooning hymns of the old negro woman had died away;
and the moans of the suffering child, and the sobs of the weary mother,
and the eager exclamations of Ada Greene (for such I learned was the
name of my young companion), were, for a season, lost alike in sleep.
Food had been distributed--prayer had been offered--all seemed favorable
so far to our preservation. We were on the track of voyage--the pathway
of ships--and the sea was tranquil as a summer lake; up to this point,
the arm of God had been extended over us almost visibly. Would He
forsake us now? I questioned thus, and yet I could not, dare not, hope
as others hoped!
The morning came; I woke, aroused by Salva's song, from troubled sleep;
and, as I rose to a sitting posture, a troop of sea-birds that had been
swooping overhead, fled with a fiend-like screaming.
The mother and child were already consuming their scant allowance of
food. Ada Greene was standing self-poised, swaying like a slender reed
with the motion of the raft, so as never to lose her balance, like a
young acrobat, with her folded arms, her floating hair, and fair Aurora
face, uplifted to the day.
Over the raft were scattered groups of men taking their morning meal;
but, as before, the stalwart form of Christian Garth was at the helm, or
rather, mast and rudder merged in one, which he controlled with calm,
"Is there a ship in the distance, that you gaze so earnestly?" I asked
of the young girl as I put back my hair that had clustered thickly over
my face in my uneasy slumber, and followed eagerly the direction of her
"Oh! no; only a school of dolphins; but it is so pretty! Some came quite
near just now; the men were harpooning them; but if we had them we could
not cook them, you know, on this miserable contrivance."
"One we should be very grateful for, Ada, since it is all that lies
between us and destruction!" I answered, sorrowfully, for the levity of
her spirit grieved and shocked me.
"I don't know about that; I think we might as well have gone down at
once as stay here, and be roasted and starved. How hot it is to-day!
What would I not give for a good glass of ice-water! Don't look so
shocked; we shall be saved, of course. I am not the least afraid about
that, for Mr. Garth says we _must_ see a ship before evening. Don't you
mark the flag flying at the mast-head? He brought it on board on
purpose, so that they might not mistake our country (the packets, I
mean), and give us the go-by as that Spanish vessel did! But they do say
that was a pirate; and that, instead of sitting on a plank, we should
have been walking a plank by this time, had they rescued us. I'm rather
glad they didn't, though, after all--things couldn't be much worse than
they are, could they, now?--There, I came very near falling, I declare!"
The moans of the sick woman at my side became almost constant toward
noon; and she was obliged to surrender her infant wholly to my charge,
for the haemorrhage of the day before had returned, and she was fast
drifting into unconsciousness. "Water, water!" was the only intelligible
cry that left her lips, and that we had to give was warm and brackish,
from the occasional lapping of the sea against the barrels, into which
it oozed insensibly.
The sun shone down hot and brazen, from the lurid heavens, covered with
filmy clouds, so equally overspreading it that a thin, gray veil seemed
to interpose between us and its scorching rays, scarcely tempering them
by its diaphanous medium.
Beneath it lay the sea, like a copper shield, smooth and glowing,
seething like a boiling caldron, with its level foam, for the long,
low-rolling billows lifted themselves but lazily from Ocean's breast,
and assumed no distinctness of form or motion. Not the faintest breeze
came to relieve the stifling closeness of the atmosphere, or lift the
collapsed sail, or furled flag, that clung around our mast. The air
shimmered visibly around us, as though undergoing some transformation
from the heat, some culinary process, through which it was to be
rendered unfit for human lips to breathe. Birds flew low and heavily
around the raft, as though their wings met such resistance as fish find
in water, alighting occasionally to pick up languidly morsels of
Still the old negro's crooning hymns went on, recommenced with morning
light. To my sad heart, the refrain bore a mournful significance:
"In the land of the New Jerusalem
There shall be no more sea."
She sat, a wrinkled hag, with a leering, repulsive face, with her feet
planted firmly on her mattress, her knees elevated, her long, ape-like
arms closely embracing these--her fingers, strung with brass and silver
rings, intertwined with snake-like flexibility.
On her head was the inevitable bright-colored handkerchief, the badge of
her race, or rather of her condition in those days, and she wore the
decent, blue-cotton frock, which marked her for a plantation-negro.
Large hoops were in her flat, enormous ears, that seemed to suspend her
shoulders as they touched them, drawn up and narrowed as these were,
even beyond their natural hideousness, by her attitude, one which she
maintained as stolidly as a dervish.
"You must help us," I said, at last, when the crisis came, and affairs
waxed desperate. "You must take the child, at least, and care for him.
See, it requires two persons to sustain his dying mother--one to wet her
"'Deed, honey," she interrupted, coolly, "you must 'scuse me dis oncst;
I has jus' as much to do as I kin posomply 'complish, in keepin' of
myself dry, comfable, and singin' ob my hyme-toones. We has all to take
our chances dis time, an' do for our own selves, black and white; an' I
don't see none ob my own white folks on dis raf', wich I is mighty proud
of. Dar, now! I does b'leve dat is a ship sail way off dar. Does you see
And she pointed to a large white gull, skimming the main at some
distance. Disgusted with her selfishness, I vouchsafed her no further
notice at the time, and her crooning went on during the whole period of
the bitter death-struggle of that poor sufferer, whose name I never
knew, but whose little, deformed waif, the orphan of the raft, remained
"You will take care of him," she had said to me, in her last conscious
moments, "my baby-boy, my little--" the name died on her lips, and she
never spoke again.
When she was dead, Christian Garth caused her to be wrapped in
sail-cloth, weighted with chains, and, with a brief prayer, consigned to
the deep. His superstitious sailor's fears rebelled against the idea of
keeping a corpse on board one moment longer than necessary, so the rites
of sepulture were speedily accomplished.
When I remonstrated, feebly enough it is true, for exhaustion was
supervening on long-sustained effort, at his haste, which, even under
the circumstances, seemed to me indecent, he coolly spoke of it as a
measure essential to the good of all.
Talismanic as were these words on such occasion, mine were the lips that
murmured the brief prayer, a portion of the solemn Episcopal
grave-service that I chanced to remember, above the poor, pale corpse,
even while my weary arms inclosed the struggling child, who,
understanding nothing of the truth, would fain have plunged after his
mother into depths unknown.
A low, long roll of thunder smote on the ear, like a message to the
ocean, from the heavens above, as we saw the waters close greedily over
the form of our dead passenger. The men who had launched the body from
the raft looked up and listened fearfully, and Christian Garth hastened
to trim his sail.
It was sunset now, and the clouds gathered so rapidly about the sun,
that he sank empalled in purple to his watery bed, leaving no trace
behind to mark his faded splendor.
A sudden breeze sprang up, infinitely refreshing at first to soul and
sense, and again the thunder lumbered and crashed about us. The billows
heaved and leaped like steeds just freed from harness, tossing their
white manes; the raft shuddered and reeled with a deadly, sickly motion,
like a creature in strong throes, plunging with frantic suddenness into
the troughs of the waves at one moment, as if impelled by fear, then
rallying to their summits, only to cast itself wildly down again.
All was confusion, dire and terrible. Then burst the storm upon
I was conscious of clutching, with one hand, a rope which strained and
swayed desperately, while with the other I grasped the affrighted baby
to my breast.
Ada Greene and the old negro woman clung together, hanging to the same
cord of safety, flung to them, to all of us, by the hand of Christian
The barrels strained and groaned, and broke from their fastenings; the
awning was wrenched from its mooring, and swept away; the bitter brine
broke over us and choked our cries; the anguish of death was upon us
without its submission. We struggled instinctively to breathe, to live;
we grappled desperately with circumstances; we fought against our doom.
Suddenly the sea dropped to rest--the storm was spent; a low, sighing,
soughing gale swept around our nucleus of despair, and the surging of
the sea was like a bitter funeral-wail. The air grew cold and chill; one
vast, pall-like cloud enveloped the whole face of the unpitying
heavens, that seemed literally "to press down upon our very faces like a
roof of black marble."
No moon, no stars, were visible; we had no light of any kind, nor could
we ascertain the damage done until the cold, gray morning broke in gloom
and rain upon us. Then it was made plain to us that our food had all
been swept overboard--together with six seamen and five of the
passengers. There remained on the raft only three shuddering women and a
little child--and a handful of weary and discouraged men, sustained and
led to a sense of duty by the dauntless master-spirit of one alone--the
presence of Christian Garth, indomitable through all hardships. So it
had fared with us for six-and-thirty hours of our experience on "our
We had been washed from our little platform, which ordinarily lifted us
above the lapping of the sea during the prevalence of the storm--and we
regained it now, glad to repose even on the sea-soaked mattresses bereft
of awning. By the mercy of God some glutinous sea-zoophytes had been
tangled among them, and by the help of the brine-soaked biscuit in my
pocket (crammed there, it may be remembered, as a precious hoard for a
time of dire necessity, on the morning of the fire, by the small,
cunning fingers of the sickly child), we breakfasted, or rather broke
our fast--we four, the child, the negress, Ada Greene, and I--and life
was aroused again in every breast by means of a briny morsel.
"A cup of coffee would not be amiss just now," said the girl, laughing,
"but the Lord knows we can wait."
There was a strange, bright light in the eyes of the young girl as she
spoke these words, and she was arraying her hair coquettishly with some
bunches of sea-weed, which had been cast up by the storm, and from which
the eager, famishing lips of the little boy had been permitted to suck
the gluten before discarding the skeleton stems.
That hair was in itself a grace and glory--rippling from crown to waist
in sheeny, golden splendor, fine as silk, and glossy as the yellow floss
threads of pale, ripe Indian-corn--beautiful, even in its dishevelled
and drenched condition, as an artist's dream. Devoid as it was of
regular beauty, the face beneath, with its clear blue eyes, red lips,
and pure complexion, the pink and white that reminds one of a sweet-pea
or ocean-shell, had struck me as very lovely from the first; nothing to
support this groundwork of excellence had I discovered, however, either
in the form of the head, which was ignoble, or the expression of the
face, which was both timid and defiant, or the tones of the voice, which
were shrill and harsh by turns--yet, as my fellow-voyager and sufferer,
I was interested in this young creature, not forgetting, either, her
attention during my pending swoon, of which mention has been made.
"I am going to the party, whatever the preacher may say, and whether
Captain Ambrose wills it or no. I am under his care and protection, you
see, to go to New York to my aunt, Madame Du Vert, the famous milliner,
and I am to learn her trade. Her name is Greene, so they call her Du
Vert, to make out that she is French--_vert_ is _green_, in French, you
see; or so they tell me. Now, Captain Ambrose is a church-member, too,
and he does not want dancing on his ship, and so he made the calkers
pitch the deck--that was to break up the ball, you know; but don't tell
any one this for the 'land's sake,'" drawing near to me and whispering
strangely, with her forefinger raised--"or all those proud Southern
people would pitch into me--pitch, you understand?" and she laughed
merrily--"their white satin slippers and all!"
"You must not talk so, Ada;" and I took her hand, which was burning.
"Why not? Who are you, to prevent me? I am as good as you any day--or
Miss Lamarque either, or any of those haughty ones--though my father was
a negro-trader. Well, whose business was that but God's? If He don't
care, who need care?--An't I right, old mammy?" appealing to the ancient
negress, who had suspended her croon to listen.
"Yes, indeed--that you is, honey; right to upholden your own dad--nebber
min' what he did to serbe the debble. But you looks mighty strange,
chile, outen your eyes. Wat dat you sees ober dar--is it a ship,
gal?--or must we--" and her voice sank to a mutter--"must we fall back
on dis picaninny, to keep from starvation?--"
I understood her dreadful suggestion even before the words fully left
her cannibal lips, exposing her yellow fangs; from the glance of her
cruel eye in the direction of the child, and the working of her long,
crooked talons, rather than fingers, writhed like knotted serpents; I
understood them with an instinct that made me clutch him closely to my
breast, and narrowly watch his enemy from that hour until the time when
my brain failed and my eyes closed in unconsciousness, and with the
determination to plunge with him into the sea rather than devote him to
such a fate or yield to such an alternative as this wretch in human form
had more than hinted--even should the animal instinct, underlying every
nature, presume to dictate to reason at the last!
We could but die--that was the very worst that Fate had in store for
us--_but_ die in the body! How infinitely worse that the soul should
perish through the selfish sensuousness of cannibalism, which would
degrade life itself below dissolution, even if preserved by such means!
"I am ready now to go to Captain Ambrose for assistance," said Ada
Greene, poising herself before me, and having surrendered or forgotten
her first idea, evidently, in the new mania of the moment. "Of course,
he does not intend to leave us here to perish, and he is in the next
cabin--but a step; see how easily I can get to him, and I shall be back
before you can say 'Presto!'"
As nimbly as a sea-gull runs upon the sand, the young creature flew
across the now level raft toward the sea, but a strong hand clutched her
as she was about to step overboard, and compelled her back to her place
on the platform, where, bound with cords, she lay raving, until sleep or
unconsciousness mercifully supervened to spare me the spectacle of her
agony, which no human power could alleviate.
Hours passed before this "consummation devoutly to be wished" took
effect, and, at the end of that time, my reeling brain, my fainting
energies, warned me that I, too, was probably approaching some dreadful
crisis. With a view to the refreshment its waters could possibly afford
my head, I crept quietly from the platform on which the old negro woman
held enforced guard over the insensible form of Ada Greene, and, still
clasping the poor helpless one, so mysteriously thrust upon my tender
mercies, to my bosom, I gained the edge of the raft, unnoticed by
Christian Garth, who might otherwise have apprehended me in turn, and
borne me back to my allotted precincts, and hung above the ocean, so as
to suffer its cooling spray to fall unceasingly across my burning
From some instinctive prompting I had lashed the poor, frail baby to my
girdle with the scarf of knotted silk I wore about my neck, and, wan
and exhausted, he lay upon my shoulder tranquilly as any Indian papoose
might do on its mother's breast. A branch of sea-weed floated past as I
looked down--some gracious mermaid's gift, perhaps, extended by her
invisible fingers to greet our famishing lips--and I caught it eagerly,
dividing the welcome nutriment with the perishing child, now patient
from weakness and instinctive consciousness, perhaps, of the entire
uselessness of cries and tears.
Whether the weed was a sort of ocean-hasheesh, or wholesome aliment, I
never knew, but certain it is that, from the moment its juices passed my
lips, a strange and delightful quietude stole over my weary senses, fast
lapsing, as these had seemed, into, unconsciousness when I left my place
to seek the ocean's brink.
The rays of the declining sun seemed for a moment centred on one spot,
immediately before my impending face, supported as this was on one hand,
and my sight followed their lance-like rays to the very floor of ocean!
As the waters of the Red Sea divided for the passage of Moses and the
Israelites, so seemed these to part for my mental eyes, sundered as they
were by a golden sword of infinite splendor.
That power which neither pain nor peril can subdue had possession of me
now, and, above all, the bitter circumstances that surrounded me, and,
in the face of danger and of death, imagination asserted her supremacy.
My dream was not of passing ship or harbor gained, or rich repast, or
festival, or clustered grapes and sparkling wines, like other sufferers
from shipwreck, fevered with famine, frenzied with despair; but hasheesh
or opium never bestowed so fair, so strange a vision as that which, in
my extremity, was mercifully accorded to me.
My eyes pursued the sea-shaft to its base, as a telescope conducts the
mortal gaze to revel in the stars. Merman and mermaid, nereid and
triton, were there, rejoicing in the sunbeams thus poured upon them
through this subtle conduit of ocean, as do the motes of summer in her
rays; but soon these disappeared, a motley crowd, confused and joyous,
leaving the vision free to pierce the depths, glowing with golden light,
in search of still greater marvels.
Then I saw outspread before me the streets, the fanes, the towers, the
dwellings, of a vast, deserted city, one of those, I could not doubt,
that had existed before the flood, and which had lain submerged for
thousands of centuries; the fretwork of the coral-insect was over all
(that worker against time, so slow, so certain), in one monotonous web
of solid snow.
Statues of colossal size, and arches of Titanic strength and power,
adorned the portals, the pass-ways, the temples of this metropolis of
ocean, guarded as were these last by the effigies of griffin and dragon,
and winged elephant and lion, and stately mastodon and monstrous
ichthyosaurus, all white as gleaming spar.
Gods and demi-gods of gigantic proportions and majestic aspect were
carved on the external walls of the windowless abodes and fanes; and,
from the yawning portal of one of these, a temple vast as Dendera's
self, came forth, fold after fold, even as I seemed to gaze, the
monstrous sea-serpent of which mariners dream, more huge, more loathly,
than fancy or experience ever yet portrayed him. I still behold in
memory the stately, fearful head, with its eyes of emerald fire and
sweeping, sea-green mane, as it reared its neck for a moment as if to
scale the ladder the sunbeams had thrown down when first emerging from
its temple-cavern; and, later, the mottled, monstrous body, as coil
after coil was gradually unwound, until it seemed at last to lie in all
its loathsome length for roods along the silent, shell-paved
streets--the scaly monarch, of that scene of human desolation!
I recall the feeling of security that upheld me to look and to observe
every motion of the reptile of my dream.
"He cannot come to me here," I thought. "The ark is sacred, and God's
hand is over it; besides, I hear the singing of the priests, and the
dove is about to be cast forth! Will the raven never come back? Oh, the
sweet olive-branch! It falls so lightly! We are nearing the mountain
now, and we shall soon cast anchor!"
Then, among choral chants of joy and thanksgiving, I seemed to sleep.
How long this slumber lasted, or whether it came at all, I never knew.
It is a loving and tender thing in our Creator to decree to us this
curtain of unconsciousness when nerve and strength would otherwise give
way beneath the intensity of suffering--a holy and gentle thing for
which we are not half thankful enough in our estimate of blessings.
My sleep, or swoon, shielded me from long hours of agony, mental and
physical, that must have become unendurable ere the close. As it was, I
knew no more after the sea-shaft closed with its wondrous and mysterious
revelations (which I yet recall with marveling and admiration, as we are
wont to do a pageant of the past), until aroused from lethargy by the
hand and voice of Christian Garth.
It was night. I saw the glimmer of the moonlight on the seas, a
tranquil, balmy night; but some dark object was interposed between me
and the stars which, I knew, were shining above, and the raft lay
motionless upon the waters. I was aware, when my senses returned
temporarily, that the bow of a mighty vessel was projected above our
frail place of refuge, and that we were saved. The dove had come at
When or how we were lifted to the deck of the ship I knew not, for,
having partially revived, I soon drifted away again into profound
lethargy and entire unconsciousness, which for a time seemed death.
A woman sat sewing near my berth in the state-room in which I found
myself; a fan, lying on a small table at her side, betokened in what
manner she had divided her attentions--between her needle and her
helpless charge. I thought; indeed, that I had felt its soft plumes
glide gently across my face in the very moment of my awakening in the
first amazement of which I but dimly comprehended the circumstances that
"What brought this stranger to my pillow! Who and what was she? Where
was I!" These were my mental queries at the first. Then, as the truth
gradually dawned over my sluggish and bewildered brain, I lay quietly
revolving matters, and noticed my self-constituted nurse, and my
surroundings, with the close yet careless observation of a child.
The woman, on whom my gaze was earliest fixed (while her own seemed
riveted on the work upon her knee), was of middle age or beyond it, of
medium size, of square and sturdy make, and homely to the very verge of
ugliness. She was dressed plainly if not commonly in black, but there
was a general air of decency about her that seemed to place her beyond
the sphere of servitude. She wore spectacles set in tortoise-shell
frames, and she wore her iron-gray hair straight back behind small,
funnel-shaped ears, and gathered into the tightest knot behind. Her
head was flat and narrow at the summit, though broad at and above the
base of the brain. Her forehead, wide yet low, was ignoble in
expression. The mouth, shaped like a horseshoe, was curved down at the
corners, and was full of sullen resolution. The nose, pinched, yet not
pointed, showed scarcely any nostril, and might as well have been made
of wood, for any meaning it betrayed. Her eyebrows were short, wide,
rugged, and irregular, though very black; the cast-down eyes, of course,
so far inscrutable.
She was shaping a flimsy, black-silk dress, and doing it deftly, though
it was a marvel to me how hands so stiff and cramped as hers appeared to
be could handle a needle at all.
On one of these gnarled and unlovely fingers she wore a ring which, in
the idleness of the mood that possessed me, I examined listlessly. It
was an old-fashioned and slender circle of gold, so pale that it looked
silvery, such as in times long past had commonly been used either for
troth-plight or marriage-vows, surmounted by two small united hearts of
the same dull metal by way of ornament. Mrs. Austin, I remembered,
possessed one, the aversion of my childhood, that seemed its
My weary eyes wandered from her at last, to take in the accessories of
my chamber, tiny as this was, and I saw that against the wall were
hanging a gentleman's greatcoat and hand-satchel. Cigars and books were
piled on the same table which held the spool and scissors of my
companion, and a pair of cloth slippers, embroidered with colored
chenilles and quilted lining, of masculine size and shape, reposed upon
the floor. A cane and umbrella were secured neatly in a small corner
rack. There were no traces, I saw, of feminine occupancy beyond the
transient implements of industry alluded to.
Suddenly, in their languid, listless roving, my eyes encountered those
of my attendant fixed full upon me, while a smile distorted the homely,
sallow face, disclosing a set of yellow teeth, sound, short, and strong,
like regular grains of corn.
In those eyes, in that mouth and saffron teeth, lay the whole power and
character of this repulsive and disagreeable physiognomy.
Those feline orbs of mingled gray and green, with their small, pointed
pupils, were keen, vigilant, and observing beyond all eyes it had ever
before or since been my lot to encounter. After meeting their
penetrating glance I was not surprised to hear their possessor accost me
in clear, metallic tones, that seemed only the result of her gift of
insight, and consistent with it.
"You are awake and yourself again, young lady, I am glad to see! You
have slept very quietly for the last few hours, and your fever is
wellnigh broken. Will you have some food now? You need it; you must be
"Yes, very weak; but not hungry at all. I do not want to eat. Just let
me lie quietly awhile. It is such enjoyment."
She complied silently and judiciously with my request.
After a satisfactory pause, during which I had gradually collected my
ideas, I inquired, suddenly:
"How long is it since we were lifted from the raft, and where are the
"All safe, I believe, and onboard, well cared for, like yourself. It has
been nearly two days since your raft was overhauled. This was what the
captain called it," and she smiled.
"The baby--where is he? I hope he lived."
"Yes, he is at last out of danger, and we have obtained a nurse for him.
He would only trouble you now; but it is very natural you should be
anxious about him."
"Yes, he was my principal care on the raft, and I do not wish to lose
sight of him. When I am better, you must let him share my room until we
reach our friends."
"Oh, certainly!" and again she smiled her evil smile. "No one, so far as
I know of, has any right or wish to separate you; but, for the present,
you are better alone."
"Yes, I am strangely weak--confused, even," and I passed my hand over my
blistered face and dishevelled hair with something of the feeling of the
little woman in the story who doubted her own identity. Alas! there was
not even a familiar dog to bark and determine the vexed question, "Is
Helpless as an infant, flaccid as the sea-weed when taken from its
native element, feeble in mind from recent suffering, broken in body, I
was cast on the mercies of strangers, ignorant, until they saw me, of my
existence, yet not indifferent to it, as their care testified.
"You will take some food now," said the woman, kindly, "Your weakness is
not unfavorable, since it proves the fierce fever broken; but you must
hasten to gather strength for what lies before you. We shall be in port
I put away the spoon with an impatient gesture. "I cannot; it nauseates
me but to see it, to think of it. Strength will come of itself."
"Oh, no; that is impossible. Besides, the doctor has ordered panada, and
I am responsible to him for your safety. Come, now, be reasonable. This
is very nice, seasoned with madeira and nutmeg."
Making a strong effort to overcome my repugnance, I received one
spoonful of the proffered aliment, then sank back on my pillow, soothed
and comforted, not more by the unexpectedly good effects of the
compound, than the associations it conjured up, of my sick childhood, of
Mrs. Austin, and of Dr. Pemberton.
"Ah! you smile; that is a good sign," said the woman; "favorable every
way. We shall have no more delirium now, I hope; no more 'bears and
serpents' about the berth; no more calls for 'Bertie' and 'Captain
Wentworth,' and you will soon be able to tell us all about yourself and
your people--all we want to know."
I must have lapsed again into reverie rather than slumber, from which I
was partly aroused by whispering voices at the door, one of which seemed
familiar to me. Yet this fact or fancy made little impression on me at
the moment, feeble and wretched as was my will, undiscriminating as were
And when the door opened, and a lady entered, I did not seek to inquire
about her interlocutor. Respectfully rising from her seat beside me, my
companion left it vacant for her, to whom she introduced me as her
mistress, and stood, work in hand, sewing beneath the skylight, while
the new-comer remained in the state-room.
A handsome woman, tall and fashionably attired, apparently between
thirty and forty years of age, square face, dark-eyed, rosy-cheeked, and
with curling hair, approached me with uplifted hands and eyebrows as I
lay gazing calmly upon her; for my food and slumber together had
strengthened and revived me wonderfully in the last few hours, and my
senses were again collected.
"Awake, and herself again, as I live, even if we cannot say yet
truthfully 'clothed and in her right mind.'--Eh, Clayton?" with a
sneering simper; "and what eyes, what teeth, to be sure! Then the
dreadful redness is going away, though the skin will scale, of course;
but no matter for that; all the fairer in the end. And what a special
mercy that her hair is saved!--You have to thank _me_ for that, young
lady. I would not let the ship's doctor touch a strand of it--not a
strand. 'One does not grow a yard and a half of hair in a month, or a
year, doctor,' I observed, 'and a woman might as well be dead at once,
or mad, or a man, as have cropped hair during all the days of her
youth.' I had a fellow-feeling, you see! I have magnificent hair myself,
child, as Clayton well knows, for it is her chief trouble on earth, and
I would almost as lief die as lose it."
"Yes, indeed, Lady Anastasia's hair is one of her chief attractions,"
observed the sympathizing Clayton, behind her chair.
"So Sir Harry Raymond thought, my dear "--addressing me--"when I married
him, ten years ago; and so somebody else thinks just now, for I am tired
of my widowhood, and intend taking on the conjugal yoke again as soon as
"New York," interpolated Mrs. Clayton, hastily and emphatically;
clearing her throat slightly, by way of apology, perhaps, for her
"And you shall stand bridesmaid, my dear. Yes, I am determined on it; so
never make great eyes at me. There is a little bit of romance about me
that will strike out in spite of all my worldliness; and it will be so
pretty to have an 'ocean-waif for an attendant--it will read so well in
the papers! I suppose, when you reach your friends, there will be no
difficulty about a dress, and all that sort of thing, meet for the
occasion--a very splendid one, I assure you--conducted without regard
to expense; for my _fiance_ is very rich, I hear, and my own jointure
was a liberal one."
"You do me a great honor," I murmured, conventionally rebelling inwardly
at the suggestion.
"Oh, not at all!" was the gracious rejoinder. "I see at a glance, in
spite of your misfortunes, that you are one of us, which is not what I
say to everybody. True blood will show under all circumstances, though
there is such an improvement. Did any one ever see the like before? Why,
my dear, you were blistered and black when we picked you up, and
afterward sienna-colored; now you are almost a beauty!"
"I am better--much better, and have a great deal to be thankful for, I
feel," I contented myself with murmuring.
"Of course you have. It was just a chance with you between our ship and
death, you know. By-the-by, what name shall we give our
"Miriam for the present, if you please. This is no time nor place for
"Well, Miriam it shall be," she repeated with laughing eyes (hers were
of that sort which close and grow Chinese under the pressure of
merriment and high cheekbones combined). "Miriam, I like the name--there
is something grand about it."
"But how shall we know where to find your friends when we get to port?"
asked my first attendant. "We _must_ know more than your Christian name
for such a purpose. You must place confidence in us, you must indeed!"
"Be patient with me," I entreated. "I am much too feeble yet to give you
the details that may be necessary. When we reach New York, you shall
know every thing: or is it, indeed, to that place this ship is bound?"
"I thought you knew all about your destination by this time," replied
Lady Anastasia Raymond. "Yes, yes, New York of course!" and again she
laughed. "Didn't you hear Clayton say so?"
Just then a sharp tap at the door was answered by Lady Anastasia, who
went quickly from beneath the curtain hung across it (in consideration,
no doubt, of the privacy my illness enjoined), but not before I had
caught once, and this time clearly, the tones of a voice that thrilled
to my life, the same that had haunted my delirious fancy, I now
remembered, through the last four-and-twenty hours.
I rose to my elbow impulsively, only to fall back again utterly
"Who was that speaking?" I asked, feebly; "can it be possible--" and I
wrung my hands.
"It was the ship's doctor," interrupted the woman I had heard called
Clayton by her mistress. "He had not time to do more than inquire about
you, I suppose, there are so many ill in the steerage; but he has been
very kind and will probably return."
"I hope so," I rejoined; "I should like to realize that voice as _his_.
It has haunted me very disagreeably in my dreams, and the tones are
those of an old, old acquaintance, one I should be sorry to see here."
"I do not believe you have an acquaintance on the ship," she said,
simply. "Under the circumstances any such person would certainly have
discovered himself; your situation would have moved a heart of stone."
"But it is sometimes wise for the wicked to lie _perdu_," I murmured,
and conjecture was busy in my brain. "I should be glad, too, to see the
captain of this vessel at his earliest convenience," I added, after a
pause. "Will you be so good as to apprise him in person of my earnest
wish? It would be a real charity."
"Oh, certainly; but I am afraid he cannot come to-night. It is nearly
evening now, and he never leaves the deck at this hour, nor until very
"To-morrow, then, I must insist on this interview, since I reflect about
it, for several reasons."
"To-morrow he shall come," she said, sententiously; "and now try and
sleep again. It is very necessary you should gather strength, for we
shall be in port shortly, when all will be confusion."
I went to sleep, I remember, murmuring to myself: "The hands were the
hands of Jacob, but the voice was the voice of Esau;" and my bewildered
faculties found rest until the morning's dawn.
After a hasty toilet made by the careful hands of Mrs. Clayton, a
matutinal visit made by Mrs. or Lady Raymond, who always rose early as
she informed me, and a cup of tea, very soothing to my prostrated
nerves, the potentate of the Latona was duly announced.
Our ship's master was a tall, gaunt, sandy-haired man, with steady gray
eyes, hard features, and enormous hands and feet, the first freckled and
awkward, the last so long as very nearly to span the space between his
seat (a small Spanish-leather trunk) and the berth I reposed in. He
entered without his hat; and the swoop of the head he made to avoid the
entanglement of the curtain was supposed to do double duty, and serve as
a bow to the inmate of his state-room as well, for his I supposed it to
be at the time, and he did not contradict me.
"I hope you find yourself comfortable, marm, on board of my ship."
"And in your state-room, captain?" I interrupted promptly.
"Wall, you see it all belongs to me, kinder," he said, after seating
himself, as he rubbed his huge, projecting knees, plainly indicated
through his nankeen trousers, with his capacious, horny hands. "I'm not
very particular, though, where I sleep on shipboard, but at home there's
few more so."
"I thought a captain was more at home on shipboard than anywhere else,"
I pursued mechanically; "such is the theory at least."
"Oh, not at all, not at all; when he has a snug nest on land, with a
wife and children waiting to receive him. You might as well talk of a
man in the new settlements bein' more at home in his wagon than in his
neat, hewn-log cabin."
"A very good simile, captain, and one that kills the ancient theory
outright. Let me thank you, however, before we proceed further, for all
the kindness and attention I have received in this floating castle of
yours, both from you and others. I hope and believe that my companions
in misfortune have fared as well."
"Wall, they have not wanted for nothing as far as I knew--the poor baby
in particular;" and, as he spoke, he roughed his hair with one hand and
smiled into my face a huge, honest, gummy smile, inexpressibly
"The man is hideous and repulsive," I thought; "but infinitely
preferable, somehow, to the specimen of English aristocracy and her maid
who have constituted themselves so far my guardian angels"--a twinge of
ingratitude here, which I resented instantly by settling my patriotic
prejudices to be at the root of the thing, and rebuking my mistrust
sternly though silently. "Yet that voice--how could I be mistaken?" and
again I addressed myself to the task before me, having gotten through
While I sat hesitating as to what I should say, so as to both guard
against and conceal my suspicions from the captain's scrutiny, if,
indeed, he might be supposed to possess such a quality, I observed that
he drew from his pocket a long slip of newspaper, in which he appeared
to bury himself for a time, when not glancing furtively at me, as if
waiting impatiently for the coming revelation.
"I have sent for you, Captain Van Dorne," I said, at last, in very low
and even tones, not calculated to reach outside ears, however vigilant,
and yet not suppressed by any means to whispers--"I have sent for you,"
and my heart beat quickly as I spoke, "not merely to thank you for your
hospitable kindness, but because I wish, for reasons that I cannot now
explain, to place myself under your especial care until I reach my
"Certainly, certainly; but you _air_ among your friends already if you
could only think so," he answered, evasively, still caressing his potato
knees with large and outspread hands.
"Do not for one moment deem me unmindful of much kindness, or ungrateful
to those who have bestowed it," I hastened to explain. "Yet I cannot
deny that a fear possesses me that among your passengers may be found
one whom I esteem, not without sufficient cause, my greatest enemy."
"Poor thing! poor thing! what put such a strange fancy into your head?
An enemy in my ship! Why, there is not a man on board who would not cut
off his right hand rather than harm one hair of your poor, witless,
defenseless head! There was not a dry eye on the deck when you and the
rest wuz lifted from the raft!"
"I understand this prevalence of sympathy for misfortune perfectly, and
honor it; yet I have heard a voice since my immurement in this cabin
which must belong"--and I whispered the dreaded name--"to Mr. Basil
As I spoke I eyed him steadily, and I fancied that his cheek flushed and
his eye wavered--that clear and honest eye which had given him a high
place in my consideration from the moment I met its' gaze.
"You must have been delirious-like when you conceited you heerd that
strange voice," he said, presently.
"I'll send you my passenger-list if you choose, and you can read it over
keerfully. I don't think you'll find _that_ name, though, in its
kolyums," shaking his head sagaciously.
"Captain Van Dome, do you mean to say there is no such passenger in your
ship's list as Basil Bainrothe?" I asked, desperately.
"That's what I mean to say."
"Give me your honor on this point. It is a vital one to me. Your honor!"
He hesitated and looked around. Just at this moment of apparent
uncertainty, a slight tap was heard on the ground-glass eye above us
that threw a sullen and unwilling light upon the scene of our interview.
It seemed to nerve him strangely.
"On my word of honor, as an American seaman, I assure you that the name
of Basil Bainrothe is not on the ship's list at this present speaking;"
and, as he spoke, he held up his right hand, adding, as he dropped it,
doggedly, "Ef the man's on board I don't know it!"
"It is enough--I believe you, Captain Van Dorne. And now I want to ask
you, as a parting grace, to convey me yourself to the Astor House, and
place my watch" (detaching it from my neck as I spoke) "in the hands of
the proprietors as a proof of my honest intentions. For yourself, I
shall seek another opportunity."
"Not at all--not at all!" he interrupted. "Keep your watch, young lady.
No such pledge will be required by them proprietors; and, as to myself,
if it had not been for this paper," drawing from his pocket, and
flattening on his knees as he spoke, the slip I had before observed,
then glancing at me sharply, "I could never have believed that such a
pretty-spoken, pretty-behaved young creetur could have been _non com_.
But pshaw! what am I talking about? This paper is as old as last year's
krout! You don't keer nothing about seeing of it, do you, now?" and he
crumpled it in his hand.
"Not unless it concerns me in some way, Captain Van Dorne," I said,
coldly. His manner had suddenly become offensive to me, and I longed to
see him depart, having 'transacted my affairs, as far, at least, as I
deemed it prudent to insist on such transaction.
"It may be," I added, "that, on reaching the port of New York, a friend
or friends who expected me on the Kosciusko may be in waiting to receive
me; that is, if the fate of that vessel be not already known. In that
case, I shall not be obliged to avail myself of your services, and will
acquaint you; but, otherwise, promise that you will conduct me from the
ship yourself, either to the hotel or to your wife, as you prefer."
"Wall, I promise you," he said, doggedly, as he prepared literally to
undouble his long frame before executing another dive beneath my
door-guarding drapery, and with this brief assurance I was fain to rest
At all events, I was reassured on one subject--those honest eyes, that
frank if ugly mouth had no acquaintance with lies, or the father of
them, I saw at once; and the voice of the ship's doctor had for the
nonce deceived my practised ear, overstrung by suspicion--enfeebled by
So I rested calmly until the afternoon, with Mrs. Clayton sewing
silently by my side, when with a little tap Lady Anastasia (or Mrs.
Raymond, as she declared she preferred to be called by "Americans")
entered, bearing a basket in her hand, and wearing on her head a
Dunstable bonnet simply trimmed, which she came, she said, to place,
along with other articles of dress, at my disposal.
It had not occurred to me before that, in order to go on shore
respectably clad, some attire very different from a bed-gown would be
essential, and I could but feel grateful for such proofs of unselfish
consideration on the part of strangers, pitying both my indigence and
imbecility, and so expressed myself.
In accordance with their generous intentions, I submitted myself to be
arrayed by Mrs. Clayton and her mistress: first, in the flimsy
black-silk gown now completed, on which I had seen my attendant working
when I first unclosed my eyes after long unconsciousness, and the
measure which she had taken, while I lay in this condition, as coolly in
all probability as an undertaker measures a corpse for its shroud;
secondly, in a cardinal of the same material, a wrapping cut in the
shape in vogue at that period; thirdly, in certain loosely-fitting boots
and gloves with which I was fain to cover up my naked feet and blistered
hands _in forma pauperis_ and, lastly, in the collarette and cuffs
provided by the economic and considerate Lady Anastasia, composed of
cotton lace! The Dunstable bonnet was hung upon a peg in readiness, and
I was kindly counseled to lie still, "accoutred as I was," and exhausted
by means of such accoutrement as I felt, until evening should find us
riding in our harbor.
Then there was a little, low consulting at the door with the renowned
"ship's doctor," who positively refused to approach me because he had
just come from a case of ship-fever in the steerage, which he feared to
communicate to one in my precarious state, but who sent in his
imperative orders that I should have soup and sherry-cobbler forthwith,
and try and build up my strength for the time of debarkation--speaking
in a low, growling voice divested of its former clearness, but still
strangely resembling that of Basil Bainrothe!
"The poor man is so fagged out," said Mrs. Clayton, as she brought in my
broth and wine, "that his very voice is changed. He is a good soul, and
has shown you great interest. Some day you must send him a present, that
is, if you are able; but just now all you have to think of is getting
safe ashore. Lady Anastasia will go to her friends, probably, or to
those of the gentleman she is engaged to; but I do not mean to forsake
you until I see you better, and in good hands."
I know not how it was that my heart sank so strangely at this
announcement. The woman was kind--tender, even--and had probably saved
my life, and yet her presence to me was a punishment worse than pain, a
positive evil greater than any other.
"I shall go to the Astor House," I faltered. "The captain has promised
me his escort thither."
"Yes, yes, I know, he has told me all about it; but your friends may not
be in waiting, and it is simply our duty to see you in their hands. And
now drink your sangaree. See, I have broken a biscuit in the glass, and
it is well seasoned with lemon and nutmeg. There, now, that is right; a
few spoonfuls of soup, and you will feel strengthened for your
undertaking. I will sit quietly in the corner until you have your rest."
"No, I prefer to see Christian Garth before I try to sleep--the man who
steered our raft--and the young girl he saved, and the baby--let them
all come to me, and we will go on shore together."
I spoke these words with a sort of desperation, as though they contained
my last hope of justice or protection from a fate which, however
obscurely, seemed to threaten me, as we feel the thunder-storm brooding
in the tranquil atmosphere of summer.
"Christian Garth!" she repeated, looking at me over her tortoise-shell
spectacles, and, quietly drawing out a snuffbox of the same material,
she proceeded to fill her narrow nostrils therewith. "Why, that
shaggy-looking old sailor, and the girl, and the old negro woman and
child, went on shore at daylight this morning. He hailed a Jersey craft,
and they all left together. It is perfectly understood, though, that the
child is to be returned to you if you desire its company, but, if I were
situated as you are, and sure of its safety, I would never want to see
it again. It would be better off dead than living anyhow, under the
circumstances, poor, deformed creature--better for both of you."
The words came to me distinctly, yet as if from an immense distance, and
I seemed to see the small chamber lengthening as if it had been a
telescope unfolding, and the sallow woman with her hateful smile and
tightly-knotted, brindled hair seated in diminished size and
distinctness at its farthest extremity.
So had I felt on that fearful night when Evelyn had made her revelation
and received mine, and I did not doubt, even in my sinking state, that I
was under the influence of a powerful anodyne.
"Call the ship's doctor--I am dying!" were the last words I remember to
have articulated; then all was dark, and hours went by, of deep,
It was night when I felt myself drawn to my feet, and roused to life by
the repeated applications of cold water to my face. "The anodyne was
over-powerful," I heard Mrs. Raymond say. "It is a shame to tamper with
such strong medicines."
"Oh, she has strength for any thing!" was Clayton's rejoinder. "I never
saw such a constitution--and he knew what he was doing."
"No doubt of that.--But, dear Miss Miriam, do speak to me. I am so
frightened at your lethargic condition.--I declare I am sorry I ever
consented to have any thing to do with this matter! See how she stands.
I cannot think it was right, Clayton, I cannot, indeed; I dislike the
"Do be quiet! She is coming to herself fast, and what will she think of
such expressions? You never had any self-control in your life, and you
are playing for great stakes now." These last words in a hoarse whisper.
"Again! How often must I warn you?"
"Well, Clayton, then, now and forever."
"Here! rouse up, little one! We are fast anchored in port, and the
captain is waiting for us, for we go part of the way together, and our
escorts have all failed us--yours and mine. Nice fellows, are they not?"
I sat up and looked about me bewildered; yet I had heard distinctly
every word spoken in the last few minutes, and remembered them for
future observance, without having had the power to move or articulate a
"Now, drink this strong coffee, and all will be well again," said
Clayton, putting a cup of the smoking beverage to my lips, which I
swallowed eagerly, instinctively. The effect was instantaneous, and I
was able to speak and stand, as well as hear and comprehend, while my
bonnet was being tied on, and my throat muffled in a veil, by the
dexterous fingers of Lady Anastasia.
When this process was completed, she stooped down and kissed me, and I
felt a hot tear fall upon my cheek as she rose again. In the next moment
I was clinging to the captain's arm, with a spasmodic feeling of relief
for which I could ill account. We passed across the plank which
connected the ship with the shore in utter darkness, guided by a
twinkling light far ahead, borne by a seaman, reached the dusky quay,
with its few flaring lamps, made dim by drizzling rain and summer mist,
and before many minutes we paused before one of a long line of coaches.
The captain handed me in, then, standing before the open door, seemed to
await the coming of some other person before taking his own place--the
dreaded Clayton, I knew; but I could not remonstrate against what seemed
an ordinary courtesy, and perhaps a step suggested by his innate notions
At any other time I might have agreed with him; but, feeble as I was,
and still bewildered, my whole object seemed to be to escape from the
sphere and power of those women, who had been most kind to me, yet whom
I instinctively dreaded and abhorred.
They came together, the mother and daughter, in their travesty of
mistress and maid--enough of itself to excite suspicion of foul
play--and climbed up the rickety steps of the hackney-coach, rejoicing
over their victim. It mattered not; the captain would make the fourth
passenger, and in his shadow I felt there were strength and security.
"What are you waiting for, Captain Van Dorne?" I had just feebly asked,
as the door snapped-to, and the driver mounted his box. A hand was
thrust through the window for all reply, and a card dropped upon my lap,
which I hastened to secure in the depths of my pocket. By the merest
chance, I found it there on the morrow, and later I comprehended its
import, so mysterious to me at the moment of perusal.
"My poor young lady, you must forgive me for disappointing you, and
hidin' the truth, for your own sake. May God bless and restore you, and
bring you to a proper sense of his mercies, is the prayer of your
servant to command, JOSEPH VAN DORNE."
My frame of mind was a very different one when I read this scrawl, from
that which bewildered and oppressed me on that never-to-be-forgotten
night of suffering and distress, both mental and physical. Formed of
those elements which readily react, courage and calmness had returned to
me before I read the oracle of our worthy shipmaster; for, in spite of
his disastrous dealing with me on that occasion, misguided as he was by
others, I have reason to so consider him.
But now the influence of the drug that had been given me so recently,
doubtless through want of judgment, by the ship's doctor, was felt in
every nerve; and, as the carriage rolled up the stony quay, I clung
convulsively to Mrs. Raymond, and buried my face and aching forehead in
her shoulder, with a strange revulsion of feeling.
"You dread the darkness," she said, kindly, putting her arm around me as
she spoke; "but it is only for a time; we shall soon come out into the
open lamp-light of--"
"Broadway, New York," interrupted Clayton, sententiously; "a very poor
sight to see, to one who has lived abroad. Have you ever crossed the
waters, Miss Miriam? But I see you are quite faint and overcome. Here,
smell this ether, that the ship's doctor put up expressly for your use,
and recommended highly as a new restorative much in fashion in Paris."
Had the ship's doctor no name, then, that they never mentioned it, and
that he spoke in a demon's voice? His doses I had proved, and was
resolved to take no more of them, and I pushed away the phial, whose
cold glass nose was thrust obtrusively against my own--pushed it away
with all my strength, fast ebbing away as this was, even as I made the
The cruel potion had possession of me, and entered into every fibre of
my brain through the avenues prepared for it by the treacherous anodyne;
so that, enervated and intoxicated, I yielded passively, after a brief
struggle, to the power of the then newly-invented sedative, called
When the carriage stopped, or whither it transported me, or who lifted
my insensible form to the chamber prepared for me, I know not--never
knew. There was a faint reviving, I remember; a process of disrobing
gone through by the aid of foreign assistance (whose, I recognized
not), then I slumbered profoundly and securely through the entire night,
to recover no clearness of perception until a late hour on the following
I awoke, as I had done of old, after one of my lethargic seizures, from
a deep, unrefreshing slumber, with a lingering sense about me of
drowsiness and even fatigue.
I found myself lying on a broad, canopied bedstead, the massive posts of
which were of wrought rosewood, bare of draperies, as became the season,
save at the head-board, behind which a heavy curtain was dropped of
rose-colored damask satin.
Of the same rich material were composed the tester and the
lightly-quilted coverlet, thrown across the foot of the bed, over a fine
white Marseilles counterpane.
The chimney immediately opposite to me, as I lay, was of black marble,
and, instead of graceful Greek _caryatides_, bandaged mummies, or
Egyptian figures, supported the heavy shelf that surmounted the polished
grate. In the centre of this massive mantel-slab was placed a huge
bronze clock, and candelabra of the same material graced its corners.
In either recess of this chimney rosewood doors were situated, one of
which stood invitingly ajar, disclosing the bath-room, into which it
opened, with its accessories of white marble.
The other, firmly closed, seemed to be the outlet of the chamber--its
only one--with the exception of the four large Venetian windows, two on
either side of me as I lay, the sashes of which, warm as the season was,
were drawn closely down.
The furniture of this spacious chamber to which, as if by the touch of a
magician's wand, I found myself transported, was throughout solid and of
elegant forms, consisting as it did of _armoire_, toilet-table,
bookcase, _etagere_, writing and flower stands, tables and chairs, of
the richest rosewood.
At the foot of my bed was placed a console, supporting a huge Bible and
Prayer-book, bound alike in purple velvet, emblazoned with central suns
of gold--an arch-hypocrisy that was not lost on its object.
Freshly-gathered flowers were heaped in the vases of the floral stands,
filling the close, cool room with an overpowering fragrance. The carpet
of crimson and white seemed to the eye what it afterward proved to the
foot--thick, soft, and elastic; and harmonized well with the rich,
antique, and consistent furniture.
The sort of microscopic scrutiny that children manifest seemed mine--in
my unreasoning, half-convalescent state; and for a time I observed all
that I have described with a listless pleasure, difficult to analyze, a
sort of dreamy acceptance of my condition, the very memory of which
exasperated me, later, almost to self-contempt.
A crimson cord hung at one side of my bed, continued from a bell-wire at
some distance, the tassel of which I touched lightly, and, at the very
first signal, Mrs. Clayton appeared through the hitherto only unopened
door, to know and do my bidding.
The clock on the mantel-shelf struck nine as she stood beside me, and
made respectful inquiries concerning my wants and condition;
understanding which, she disappeared, to return a few minutes later,
followed by an ancient negress, bearing a silver waiter.
I recognized in this sable assistant (or thought I recognized at a
glance) my companion in shipwreck; but, upon making known my
convictions, was met with a prompt denial by the sable dame herself,
who, shaking her head, gave me to understand, in a few broken words,
that she "no understood English--only Spanish tongue!"
Her dress--handsome and Frenchified--her creole coiffure, and the long
gray locks that escaped from her crimson kerchief bound over her ears,
as well as her more refined deportment, did indeed seem to discredit my
first idea, which came at last (notwithstanding these discrepancies) to
be fixed, and proved one link in the long chain of duplicity I untangled
At the time, however, I gave it little thought, but partook with what
appetite I might of the choice and delicate repast provided for me, in
this truly princely hotel, whose fame I discovered had not been
over-trumpeted. On my previous visits to New York, the Astor House had
been unfinished, and had made in its completion a new era certainly in
the "tavern-life" of that inhospitable city of publicans. When the
delicious coffee and snowy bread, the eggs of milky freshness, the
golden butter, the savory rice-birds, the appetizing fish, had each and
all been merely tasted and dismissed, and the exquisite China, in which
the breakfast was served, duly marveled at as an unprecedented
extravagance on the part even of John Jacob Astor, Mrs. Clayton came to
me with kindly offers of assistance in the performance of my toilet,
still a matter of difficulty in my feeble hands.
My long hair, yet tangled and clogged with sea-water, was to be at last
unbound and thoroughly combed, cleansed, and oiled, so that the black
and glossy braids, that had been my chief personal pride, might again be
wound about my head in the old classic fashion.
Then came the bath, with its reviving, rehabilitating process, and
lastly I assumed with the docility of a baby or a pauper the clean and
fragrant linen and simple wrapper that had been mysteriously provided
for me by the Lady Anastasia again, I could not doubt.
"All this must end to-day," I said, "when really clothed and in my right
mind." I requested writing-materials and more light to work by, and
composed myself to write to Dr. Pemberton (once again, I knew, in
Philadelphia), and request his assistance and protection in getting home
safely, and, if need be, in tracing Captain Wentworth.
"I suppose Captain Van Dorne has been too busy to call," I observed,
carelessly, as I prepared to commence my letter, "and Mrs. Raymond too
happy, probably, in getting safe to shore and her lover, to think of
"They have both inquired for you," said Mrs. Clayton, as she arranged
pen, ink, and paper, before me, with her usual precision, while a grim,
sardonic smile lingered about her features; "several have called, but
none have been admitted."
"Who have called, Mrs. Clayton? Give me the cards immediately. I must,
must know," I rejoined, eagerly, pausing with extended hand to receive
"Oh, there were no cards, and such as want to see you can come again.
There, now! write away, and never trouble your mind about strange
people. Have you sufficient light?"
And, as she spoke, she touched a cord which set at right angles with
the lower one the upper inside shutter of another window as she had
adjusted the first.
I wrote, two hasty notes, one on further consideration to Captain
Wentworth himself, who might, after all, be at that very time in that
same hotel--"_Quien sabe_?" as Favraud used to say with his significant
shrug, which no Frenchman ever excelled or Spaniard equalled (albeit
they shrug severally).
My spirits rose with every word I wrote, and, when I got up from my
chair after sealing and directing my letters, a new and subtle energy
seemed to have infused itself through my frame. "There, I have finished,
Mrs. Clayton," I said, putting aside the implements I had been using.
"Now go, if you please, and bring to me the proprietor of this hotel. I
will give him my letters myself, since I have other business to transact
with him," and I laid my watch and chain on the table before me, ready
for his hand, not having lost sight of my early resolution. "But,
stay--before you go, be good enough to open the lower shutters and throw
up the windows. Cool as the weather is in this climate, I stifle for
air, and this close atmosphere, laden with fragrance, grows oppressive.
Who sent these flowers, by-the-by, Mrs. Clayton? or do they belong to
the magnificence of this idealized hotel?" She made no reply to any
thing I had been saying.
By this time, however, she had lowered the upper sashes of the windows
about a foot, and the fresh air of morning was pouring in, curling the
paper on the centre table and dispersing the noisome fragrance of the
flowers, in which I detected the morbid supremacy of the tuberose and
"I want to see the streets, the people," I said, approaching one of the
windows; "this artistic light is not at all the thing I need. I have no
picture to paint, not even my own face;" and, finding her unmoved, I
undertook to do the requisite work myself.
The sashes were shut away below by inside shutters, which resisted all
my efforts to stir them. After a moment's inspection, I perceived that
they were secured by iron screws of great strength and size; not, in
short, meant to be moved or opened at all. Again I essayed to shake them
convulsively one after the other--as you may sometimes see a tiger, made
desperate by confinement, grapple with the inexorable bars of his cage,
though certain of failure and defeat.
Overpowered by a sudden dismay that took entire possession of me, I sank
into one of the deep _fauteuils_ that extended its arms very opportunely
to receive me, and sat mutely for a moment, while anguish unutterable,
and conjecture too wild to be hazarded in speech, were surging through
"I am too weak, I suppose, to open these shutters," I said at last,
feebly. "Be good enough to do it for me, Mrs. Clayton, or cause it to be
Was it not strange that up to this very moment no suspicion had clouded
my horizon since I woke in that sumptuous room?
"I cannot transcend my orders by doing any thing of the kind," she said
quietly, yet resolutely, as she pursued her avocation, that of dusting
with a bunch of colored plumes the delicate ornaments of the _etagere_
carefully one by one.
"Your authority! Who has dared to delegate to you what has no existence
as far as I am concerned?" I asked indignantly. "I will go instantly."
"You cannot leave this chamber until you receive outside permission,"
she interrupted, firmly planting herself at once between me and the door
through which I had seen her enter. "You must not think to pass through
my chamber, Miss Miriam. It is locked without, and there is no other
"Woman!" I said, grasping her feebly yet fiercely, by the arm. "Look at
me! Raise those feline eyes to mine, if you dare, and answer me
truthfully: What means this mockery? Why have you been forced on me at
all? Where is Captain Van Dorne? What becomes of his promises? What
house is this in which I find myself a prisoner? Speak!"
"You can do nothing to make me angry," she rejoined, calmly. "I know
your condition, and pity and respect it, but I shall certainly fulfill
my part of this undertaking. Captain Van Dorne recognized you as Miss
Monfort by the description in the newspaper, as did my mistress, and for
your own welfare we determined to secure you and keep you safe until the
return of Mr. Bainrothe and your sisters from Europe. They will be here
shortly, and all you have to do is to be patient and behave as well as
you can until the time comes for your trial;" and she cast on me a
menacing look from her green and quivering pupils, indescribably feline.
My trial! Great Heaven! did they mean to turn the tables, then, and
destroy me by anticipating my evidence? I staggered to a chair and again
sat down silent confounded. "Where am I, then?" I feebly asked at
"In the establishment of Dr. Englehart," she made answer, "a private
"God of heaven! has it come to this?" I covered my eyes with my hands
and sobbed aloud, while tears of pride and passion rained hotly over my
cheeks. This outburst was of short duration. "I will give them no
advantage," I considered. "My violence might be perverted. There are
creatures too cold and crafty to conceive of such a thing as natural
emotion, and passion with them means insanity. Thank God, the very power
to feel bears with it the power of self-government, and is proof of
reason. I will be calm, and if my life endures put them thus to
shame."--"You say that I am in the asylum of Dr. Englehart?" I asked
after a pause, during which she had not ceased to dust the furniture and
arrange the bed in its pristine order, speckless, with lace-trimmings,
pillow-cases smooth as glass, and sheets of lawn, and counterpane of
snow. "If so, call my physician hither; I, his patient, have surely a
right to his prompt services."--"It is just possible," I thought, "that
interest or compassion may, one or both, still enlist him in my cause--I
can but try."
A slight embarrassment was evidenced in her countenance as I made this
request. It vanished speedily.
"He is absent just at this time," she answered, quickly. "When he
returns I will make known your wish to him, if, indeed, he does not call
of his own accord."
"Be done with this shallow farce," I exclaimed, harshly. "It shames
humanity. Acknowledge yourself at once the faithful agent of a tyrant
and felon, or a pair of them, and I shall respect you more. Confess that
it was the voice of Basil Bainrothe I heard at my cabin-door, and that
Captain Van Dorne was imposed upon by that specious scoundrel, even to
the point of being conscientiously compelled to falsehood.
"I deny nothing--I acknowledge nothing," she said, deliberately. "You
and your friends can settle this between yourselves when they arrive.
Until then, you need not seek to tamper with me--it will be useless; and
I hope you are too much of a lady to be insulting to a person who has
no choice but to do her duty."
She could not more effectually have silenced me, nor more utterly have
crushed my hopes. Yet again I approached her with entreaties.
"I hope you will not refuse to mail my notes, even under these trying
circumstances,"! said, extending them to her.
"You can ask Dr. Englehart to do so when he comes," she answered,
gently; "for myself, I am utterly powerless to serve you beyond the
walls of this chamber."
"And how long is this close immurement to continue?" I asked again,
after another dreary pause. "Am I not permitted to breathe the external
air--to exercise? Is my health to be unconsidered?"
"I know nothing more than I have told you," she replied. "I am directed
to furnish you with every means of comfort--with books, flowers,
clothing, musical instrument, even, if you desire it; but, for the
present, you will not leave these walls, and you will see no society.
The doctor has decided that this is best."
"And whence did he derive his authority?"
"Oh, it was all arranged between him and Mr. Bainrothe, your guardeen"
(for thus she pronounced this word, ever hateful to me), "long ago;
before he went to France, I suppose. Captain Van Dorne had nothing to do
but hand you over."
"Captain Van Dorne! To think those honest eyes could so deceive me!" and
I shook my head wofully.
When I looked up again from reverie, Mrs. Clayton had settled herself to
work with a basket of stockings on her knees, which she appeared to be
There she sat, spectacles on nose, thimble on twisted finger, ivory-egg
in hand, in active preparation for that work, woman's _par excellence_,
that alone rivals Penelope's. Surely that assortment of yellow,
ill-mated, half-worn, and holey hose, was a treasure to her, that no
gold could have replaced, in our dreary solitude (none the less dreary
for being so luxurious). I envied her almost the power she seemed to
have to merge her mind in things like these; and saw, for the first time
in my life, what advantages might lie in being commonplace.
It was now nearly the end of July. My birthday occurred in the middle of
September. I thought I knew that, as soon as possible after my majority,
Mr. Bainrothe's conditions would be laid before me.
I could not, dared not, believe that my captivity would be lengthened
beyond that time. I resolved that I would condone the past, and go forth
penniless, if this were exacted in exchange for liberty at the end of a
month and a half from this time.
Six weeks to wait! Were they not, in the fullness of their power, to
crush and baffle me? Six weary years! For, during all this time, I felt
that the unexplained mystery that weighed upon my life would gather in
force and inflexibility. Death would have seemed to have set its seal
upon it, in the estimation of Captain Wentworth, as of all others. He
would never know that the sea, which swallowed up the Kosciusko, had
spared the woman he loved, nor receive the explanation that she alone
could give him, of the mystery he deplored.
Before I emerged from my prison, he might be gone to the antipodes, for
aught I knew, and a barrier of eternal silence and absence be interposed
between us. So worked my fate! These reflections continued to haunt and
oppress me, by night and day, and life itself seemed a bitter burden in
that interval of rebellious agony, and in that terrible seclusion, where
luxury itself became an additional engine of torture.
Days passed, alternately of leaden apathy and bitter gloom, varied by
irrepressible paroxysms of despair. Whenever I found myself alone, even
for a few moments, I paced my room and wept aloud, or prayed
passionately. There were times when I felt that my Creator heard and
pitied me; others when I persuaded myself his ear was closed inexorably
I suffered fearfully--this could not last. The accusation brought
against me by my enemies seemed almost ready to be realized, when my
body magnanimously assumed the penalty the soul was perhaps about to
pay, and drifted off to fever.
Then, for the first time, came the man I had until then believed a myth,
and sat beside me in the shadow, and administered to me small, mystic
pellets, that he assured me, in low, husky whispers, and foreign accent,
would infallibly cure my malady--my physical one, at least; as for the
mind, its forces, he regretted to add, were beyond such influence!
For a moment, the wild suspicion intruded on my fevered brain that this
leech was no other than Basil Bainrothe himself, disguised for his own
dark purposes; but the tall, square, high-shouldered form that rose
before me to depart (taller, by half a head, than the man I suspected of
this fresh deception), and the angular movements and large extremities
of Dr. Englehart, dispelled this delusion forever. After all, might he
not be honest, even if a tool of Bainrothe's?
I took the sugared miniature pills--the novel medicine he had left for
me--faithfully, through ministry of Mrs. Clayton's, and was benefited
by them; and, when he came again, as before, in the twilight, I was able
to be installed in the great cushioned chair he had sent up for me, and
to bear the light of a shaded lamp in one corner of the large apartment.
Dr. Englehart approached me deferentially, and, without divesting
himself of the light-kid gloves which fitted his large hands so closely,
he clasped my wrist with his finger and thumb, and seemed to count my
"Ver much bettair," was his first remark, made in that disagreeable,
harsh, and husky voice of his, while he bent so near me that the aroma
of the tobacco he had been smoking caused me to cough and turn aside.
Still, I could not see his face, for the immense bushy whiskers he wore,
nor his eyes, for the glasses that covered them, nor his teeth, even,
for the long, fierce mustache that swept his lips; and when, after a
brief visit, he rose and was gone again, there remained only in my mind
the image of a huge and hairy horror--a sort of bear of the Blue
Mountains, from the return of which or whom I fervently hoped to be
"Send him word I am better, Mrs. Clayton," I entreated; "I cannot see
him again, he is so repulsive; and, if you have a woman's heart in your
breast, never leave me alone with him, or with Mr. Bainrothe, when he
calls, for one moment--they inspire me equally with terror,
indescribable," and I covered my face to hide its burning blushes.
"Look up, Miss Monfort, and listen to me," said Mrs. Clayton, at last,
regarding me keenly, with her warped forefinger uplifted in her usual
admonitory fashion, but with an expression on her face of interest and
sympathy such as I had never witnessed there before. "A new light has
broken just now upon my understanding; I can't tell how or whence it
came, but here it is," pressing her hand to her brow; "I believe you
have been misrepresented to me--but that is neither here nor there. I
shall watch you closely and faithfully until we part--all the more that
I do not believe you any more crazy than I am; I half suspected this
before, but I know it now." She paused, then continued: "I should have
to tell you my life's secret if I were to explain to you why Mr.
Bainrothe's interests are so dear to me, so vital even, and I will not
conceal from you that I knew your guardeen's good name depends on your
confinement here until you come of age. After that it will only be
necessary for you to sign a few papers, and all will be straight
again--no harm or insult is designed. To these I would never have lent
myself in any way--ill as you think of me. And as long as we continue
together I will guard your good name as I would do that of my own dear
daughter--that is, if I had one. You shall receive no visitor alone."
She spoke with a feeling and dignity of which I had scarcely believed
her capable, shrewd and sensible as I knew her to be, and far above the
woman she called her mistress, in a certain _retenu_ of manner and
delicacy of deportment, usually inseparable from good-breeding.
I could not then guess how acceptable, to her and the person she was
chiefly interested in, were these signs of my aversion for Basil
Bainrothe, and what sure means they were of access to the only tender
spot in the obdurate heart of Rachel Clayton.
Certain it is that, from these expressions, I derived the first
consolation that had come to me in my immurement, and from that hour the
solemn farce of keeper and lunatic ceased to be played between us two.
From such freedom of communication on my jailer's part, I began to hope
for additional information, which never came. It was in vain that I
conjured her to tell me where my prison was situated, whether at the
edge of the city, or far away in the country, or to suffer me to have a
glimpse from a window of my vicinity. To all such entreaties she was
pitiless, and I was left to that vague and vain conjecture which so
wears the intellect.
In the absence of all possibility of escape, it became a morbid and
haunting wish with me to know my exact locality. That it could be no
great distance from the city of New York, if not within its limits, I
felt assured, from the expedition with which my transit from the ship
had been effected.
During the first three weeks of my confinement the deep silence that
prevailed about me had led me to adopt the opinion that I was the
occupant of a _maison de sante_. I had once driven past one on Staten
Island, where a friend of my father's--about whose condition he came to
inquire personally--had been immured for years. I did not alight with
him when he left the carriage to make these inquiries, but I perfectly
remembered the old gray stone building, with its ancient elms, and the
impression of gloom and awe it had left on my mind. But this idea was
I was awakened one morning, in the fourth week of my sojourn in
captivity, by the sound of chimes long familiar to my ear, the duplicate
of which I had not supposed to be in existence. At first I feared it was
some mirage of the ear, so to speak, instead of eye, that reflected back
that fairy melody, which had rung its accompaniment to my whole
childhood and youth; but, when, after the lapse of seven days, it was
repeated, I became convinced that its reality was unquestionable, and
that neither impatience nor indignation had so impaired my senses as to
reproduce those sounds through the medium of a fevered imagination.
Were these delicious bells, a recent addition to the cupola of our grim
asylum, bestowed by some benevolent hand that sought to mark and lend
enchantment to the holy Sabbath-day--even for the sake of the
irresponsible ones within its walls--or was I indeed--? But of this
there could be no question--I dared not hazard such conjecture lest it
drive me mad in reality--I must not!
I groped in thick darkness, and time itself was only measured now by
those sweet chimes, so like our own, and yet so far away. My very clock
one morning was found to have stopped, and was not again repaired or set
in motion. Papers I never saw, had never seen since I came to dwell in
shadow, save that single one so ostentatiously spread before me,
announcing the loss of the Kosciusko and her passengers--a refinement of
cruelty, on the part of those who sent it, worthy of a Japanese.
Rafts had been launched and lost, the survivors stated (the men who had
seized the long-boat, to the exclusion of the women and children); the
sea had swallowed all the remainder. A later statement might refute the
first, but even then none could know the truth with regard to my
identity, for would not Basil Bainrothe control the publication as he
pleased, and make me dead if he listed--dead even after the rescue?
Yet Hope would sometimes whisper in her daring moods: "All this shall
pass away, and be as it had not been. Be of good heart, Miriam, and do
not let them kill you; live for Mabel--live for Wentworth!"
Then, with bowed head, and silent, streaming tears, my soul would climb
in prayer to the footstool of the Most High, and the grace, which had
never come to me before, fell over me like a mantle in this sad
Unfaltering in her respectful demeanor toward me was Mrs. Clayton from
the time of the little scene I have recently described. What new and
sudden light had broken in upon her I never knew, but I supposed at the
time that the flash of conviction had gone home to her mind with regard
to the baseness of Bainrothe and the iniquity of his proceedings,
founded on the fear I had expressed of his solitary presence, and the
insight she had gained into my character.
Watching none the less strictly, she gradually relaxed that personal
surveillance that is ever so intolerable to the proud and
delicate-minded, and those suggestions that, however well intended, had
been so irritating to me from such a source. She no longer urged me to
read, or sew, or eat, or take exercise; but, retiring into her own work
(whence she could observe me at her pleasure, for her door was always
set wide open, and her face turned in my direction), she employed or
feigned to employ herself in her inexhaustible stocking-basket or
scollop-work, either one the last resource of idiocy, as it seemed to
Left thus to myself in some degree, I unclosed the leaves of the
bookcase, and surveyed its grim array of "classics"--all new and
unmarked by any name, or sign of having been read--and from them I
selected a few worthies, through whose pages I delved drearily and
industriously, and most unprofitably it must be confessed. The only
living sensations I received from the contents of that bookcase were, I
am ashamed to acknowledge, from a few odd volumes of memoirs, and
collections of travels that I had happened to find stowed away behind
the others. The rest seemed sermons from the stars.
Captain Cook's voyages and Le Vaillant's descriptions did stir me very
slightly with their strong reality, and make me for a few hours forget
myself and my captivity; but all the rest prated at me like parrots,
from stately, pragmatical Johnson down to sentimental, maudlin Sterne.
I found them intolerable in the mood in which I was, nothing so
exhausting as the abstract! and closed the book desperately to resume my
diary, neglected since the awful events of Beauseincourt, but always to
me a resource in time of trouble and of solitude. Of pens, ink, paper,
there was no lack, and I wrote one day, Penelope-wise, what I destroyed
the next. Yet this very "jotting down" impressed upon my brain the few
incidents of my prison-house recorded here, that might otherwise have
faded from my memory in the twilight of monotony.
I had no need to sew. Fair linen and a sufficiency of other plain
wearing-apparel, including summer gowns, I found laid carefully in my
drawers, and the Creole negress brought in my clothes well ironed and
carefully mended, to be laid away by the orderly hands of Mrs. Clayton.
Once, during the temporary illness of this dragon (whose bed or lair was
placed absolutely across the door of egress from her closet, so as to
block the way or make it difficult of access), the Creole, in an
unavoidable contingency like this, came with a pile of clothing in her
arms to lay the pieces herself in the bureau, by direction of my jailer,
and thus revealed herself.
By the merest accident I had found in the lining of my purse two pieces
of gold (the rest of my money had been spirited away with the belt that
contained it, or the leather had been destroyed by the action of the
saltwater), and one of these I hastened to bestow on the attendant,
signifying silence by a gesture as I did so.
I knew this wretch to be wholly selfish and mercenary, from my
experience of her on the raft--for that she was the same negress I had
long ceased to doubt--and I determined, while I had an opportunity of
doing so, to enter a wedge of confidence between us in the only possible
"Sabra," I whispered, "what became of the young girl, Ada Lee, and the
deformed child? It surely can do no harm to tell me this, and I know you
understand me perfectly."
"No, honey, sartinly not; 'sides, I is tired out of speakin' Spanish,"
in low, mumbling accents. "Well, den, dat young gal gone to 'tend on
Mrs. Raymond, and, as fur de chile, dey pays me to take kear of dat in
dis very house ware you is disposed of. Dat boy gits me a heap of
trouble and onrest of nights, dough, I tells you, honey; but I is well
paid, and dey all has der reasons for letting him stay here, I
spec'"--shaking her head sagaciously--"dough dey may be disappinted yit,
when de time comes to testify and swar! De biggest price will carry de
day den, chile; I tells you all," eying the gold held closely in her
I caught eagerly at the idea of the child's presence, though the rest
was Greek to my comprehension until long afterward, when, in untangling
a chain of iniquity difficult to match, it formed one important but
"Poor little Ernie! I would give so much to see him," I said. "Ask Dr.
Englehart to let him come to see me, Sabra, and some day I will reward
you"--all this in the faintest whisper. "But Mrs. Raymond--where is she?
Does she never come here? I desire earnestly to speak with her. Can't
you let her know this? Try, Sabra, for humanity's sake."
At this juncture the head of Mrs. Clayton was thrust forth from its
shell, turtle-wise, and appeared peering at the door-cheek.
"You have been there long enough to make these clothes instead of
putting them away, old woman," was the sharp rebuke that startled the
pretended Dinah to a condition of bustling agitation, and induced her to
shut up one of her own shrivelled hands in closing the drawer, with a
force that made her cry aloud, and, when released, wring it with agony,
that drew some words in the vernacular. "What makes you suppose Miss
Monfort wants to hear your chattering, old magpie that you are?"
continued Mrs. Clayton, throwing off her mask. "Now walk very straight,
or the police shall have you next time you steal from a companion.
Remember who rescued you on the Latona, and on what conditions, and take
care how you conduct yourself in the future. Do you understand me?"
After this tirade, which sorely exhausted her, Mrs. Clayton relapsed
into silence; and now it was my time to speak and even scold. I said:
"Now that the Spanish farce is thrown aside, it is hard indeed that I
cannot even be allowed to exchange a few words with a laundress in my
solitary condition--hard that I should be pressed to the wall in this
fiendish fashion. This woman was telling me of the presence of a little
child in the house, and I have desired permission to see it by way of
diversion and occupation. I have asked her to apply to Dr. Englehart."
"The child shall come to you, Miss Monfort, whenever you wish," said
Mrs. Clayton, with ill-disguised eagerness. "This woman is not the
proper person to apply to, however, and it is natural you should feel
concerned about it, now that you are able to think and feel again. You
know, of course, it is the boy of the wreck."
"Yes, very natural. Its mother died in my arms, if I am not mistaken in
the identity of the child; and fortunately--" I paused here, arrested by
some strange instinct of prudence, and decided not to show further
interest in his fate.
He might be inquired for, and traced even, I reflected, and thus my own
existence be brought to light. Selfishly, as well as charitably, would I
cherish him. Little children had ever been a passion with me, but this
poor, repulsive thing was the "_dernier ressort_ of desolation."
That very evening I heard the husky and guttural voice of Dr. Englehart
in the adjoining chamber, or rather in the closet of Mrs. Clayton, a
mere anteroom originally, as it seemed, to the large apartment I
It was very natural that in her ill condition my dragon should seek
medical aid, and I paid no further attention to the propinquity of this
unpleasant visitor than I could help--sitting quietly by my shaded lamp,
absorbed in the Psalter, in which I found nightly refuge.
He came in at last, after tapping very lightly on the door-panel,
unsolicited and unexpected, to my presence--the same inscrutable,
hirsute horror I had seen before, with his trudging, scraping walk, his
square and stalwart frame, his gloved extremities, his light,
blue-glasses, hat and cane in hand, a being as I felt to chill one's
"Is it true vat I hear," he asked, pausing at some distance, "dat you
vant to have dat leetle hompback chilt for a companion, Miss Monfort?"
"It is true, Dr. Englehart."
"And vat can your motif be? Heh? I must study dat for a leetle before I
can decide de question, or even trost him as a human being in your
"Lunatics are rarely governed by motives at all," I replied, "only
impulses. I want human companionship, however, that is all. I sicken in
this solitude--I am dying of mental inanition."
"It is true, you look delicate indeed, I am pained to see." The accent
was forgotten here for a moment, and an expression of real sympathy was
perceivable in his low, husky voice. "Command me in any way dat accords
wid my duty," he continued, "yes! de boy shall come! To interest, to
amuse you, is perhaps--to cure!"
"Thank you; I shall await his advent anxiously; be careful not to
"Oh, not for vorlds!"
"You are very kind; I believe, though, that is all we have to say to one
another, Dr. Englehart."
"You are bettair, then?" he said, advancing steadily toward me in spite
of this dismissal. "You need no more leetle pill? Are you quite sure of
"Not now, at least, Dr. Englehart."
"Permit me, then, to feel your pulse vonce more. I shall determine den
more perfectly dis vexing subject of your sanity."
"Thank you; I decline your opinion on a matter so little open to
difference. Be good enough to retire. Dr. Englehart. Let me at least
breathe freely in the solitude to which I am consigned."
"I mean no offence, yonge lady," he said, meekly, falling back to the
centre-table on which was burning my shaded astral lamp--for I had left
it as he approached, instinctively to seek the protection of an
interposing chair, on the back of which I stood leaning as I spoke.
He, too, remained standing, with one hand pressed firmly backward on the
top of the table, in front of which he poised himself, gesticulating
earnestly yet respectfully.
His position was an error of mistaken confidence in his own make-up,
such as we see occur every day among those even long habituated to
As he stood I distinctly saw a line of light traced between his cheek
and one of his bushy side-whiskers.
That line of light let in a flood of evidence. The man was an impostor,
a tool, as criminal as his employer--not the footprint on the sand was
more suggestive to Robinson Crusoe than that luminous streak to me, nor
the cause of wilder conjecture.
Yet I betrayed nothing of my amazement I am convinced, for, after
standing silently for a time and almost in a suppliant attitude before
me, Dr. Englehart departed, and for many days I saw him not again.
An object that looked not unlike a small, solemn owl, stood in the
middle of the floor, regarding me silently when I awoke very early on
the following morning.
At a glance I recognized poor little Ernie, and singularly enough, he
knew and remembered me at once.
"Ernie good boy now," he said as he came toward me with his tiny claw
extended. "Lady got cake in pocket, give Ernie some?" Not only did he
recall me, it was plain, but the incident that saved his life, and the
rebukes he had received on the raft for his refusal to partake of briny
biscuit, which no persuasion, it may be remembered, had availed to make
him taste--even when devoured by the pangs of hunger. I tried in vain,
however, to recall him to some remembrance of his poor mother. On that
point he was invulnerable; the abstract had no charm for him or meaning.
He dealt only in realities and presences.