Part 14 out of 18
was a sealed scrap of paper, that had been the back of a letter,
containing two lines without signature.
"I will meet you _at Dinah's_--if you come there alone about sundown."
Enough! Dinah was an old black woman who once had been a very attached
servant in Mr. Rossitur's family, and having married and become a widow
years ago, had set up for herself in the trade of a washerwoman, occupying
an obscure little tenement out towards Chelsea. Fleda had rather a shadowy
idea of the locality, though remembering very well sundry journeys of
kindness she and Hugh had made to it in days gone by. But she recollected
it was in Sloman-street and she knew she could find it; and dropping upon
her knees poured out thanks too deep to be uttered and too strong to be
even thought without a convulsion of tears. Her dinner after that was but
a mental thanksgiving; she was hardly conscious of anything beside; and a
thankful rejoicing for all her weary labours. Their weariness was sweet to
her now. Let her but see him;--the rest was sure.
How well appaid she was her bird to find.
Fleda counted the minutes till it wanted an hour of sundown; and then
avoiding Mrs. Pritchard made her escape out of the house. A long walk was
before her and the latter part of it through a region which she wished to
pass while the light was good. And she was utterly unable to travel at any
but a very gentle rate. So she gave herself plenty of time.
It was a very bright afternoon and all the world was astir. Fleda
shielded herself with a thick veil and went up one of the narrow
streets, not daring to venture into Broadway; and passing Waverly Place
which was almost as bright, turned down Eighth-street. A few blocks now
and she would be out of all danger of meeting any one that knew her. She
drew her veil close and hurried on. But the proverb saith "a miss is as
good as a mile," and with reason; for if fate wills the chances make
nothing. As Fleda set her foot down to cross Fifth Avenue she saw Mr.
Carleton on the other side coming up from Waverly Place. She went as
slowly as she dared, hoping that he would pass without looking her way,
or be unable to recognize her through her thick wrapper. In vain,--she
soon saw that she was known; he was waiting for her, and she must put up
her veil and speak to him.
"Why I thought you had left New York," said he;--"I was told so."
"I had left it--I have left it, sir," said Fleda;--"I have only come back
for a day or two--"
"Have you been ill?" he said with a sudden change of tone, the light in
his eye and smile giving place to a very marked gravity.
Fleda would have answered with a half smile, but such a sickness of heart
came over her that speech failed and she was very near bursting into
tears. Mr. Carleton looked at her earnestly a moment, and then put the
hand which Fleda had forgotten he still held, upon his arm and began to
walk forward gently with her. Something in the grave tenderness with which
this was done reminded Fleda irresistibly of the times when she had been
a child under his care; and somehow her thoughts went off on a tangent
back to the further days of her mother and father and grandfather, the
other friends from whom she had had the same gentle protection, which now
there was no one in the world to give her. And their images did never seem
more winning fair than just then,--when their place was left most
especially empty. Her uncle she had never looked up to in the same way,
and whatever stay he had been was cut down. Her aunt leaned upon _her_;
and Hugh had always been more of a younger than an elder brother. The
quick contrast of those old happy childish days was too strong; the glance
back at what she had had, made her feel the want. Fleda blamed herself,
reasoned and fought with herself;--but she was weak in mind and body, her
nerves were unsteady yet, her spirits unprepared for any encounter or
reminder of pleasure; and though vexed and ashamed she _could_ not hold
her head up, and she could not prevent tear after tear from falling as
they went along; she could only hope that nobody saw them.
Nobody spoke of them. But then nobody said anything; and the silence at
last frightened her into rousing herself She checked her tears and raised
her head; she ventured no more; she dared not turn her face towards her
companion. He looked at her once or twice, as if in doubt whether to
speak or not.
"Are you not going beyond your strength?" he said at length gently.
Fleda said no, although in a tone that half confessed his suspicion. He
was silent again, however, and she cast about in vain for something to
speak of; it seemed to her that all subjects of conversation in general
had been packed up for exportation, neither eye nor memory could light
upon a single one. Block after block was passed, the pace at which he
walked, and the manner of his care for her, alone shewing that he knew
what a very light hand was resting upon his arm.
"How pretty the curl of blue smoke is from that chimney," he said.
It was said with a tone so carelessly easy that Fleda's heart jumped for
one instant in the persuasion that he had seen and noticed nothing
peculiar about her.
"I know it," she said eagerly,--"I have often thought of it--especially
here in the city--"
"Why is it? what is it?--"
Fleda's eye gave one of its exploratory looks at his, such as he
remembered from years ago, before she spoke.
"Isn't it contrast?--or at least I think that helps the effect here."
"What do you make the contrast?" he said quietly.
"Isn't it," said Fleda with another glance, "the contrast of something
pure and free and upward-tending, with what is below it. I did not mean
the mere painter's contrast. In the country smoke is more picturesque, but
in the city I think it has more character."
"To how many people do you suppose it ever occurred that smoke had a
character?" said he smiling.
"You are laughing at me, Mr. Carleton? perhaps I deserve it."
"You do not think that," said he with a look that forbade her to think it.
"But I see you are of Lavater's mind, that everything has a physiognomy?"
"I think he was perfectly right," said Fleda. "Don't you, Mr. Carleton?"
"To some people, yes!--But the expression is so subtle that only very nice
sensibilities, with fine training, can hope to catch it; therefore to the
mass of the world Lavater would talk nonsense."
"That is a gentle hint to me. But if I talk nonsense I wish you would set
me right, Mr. Carleton;--I am very apt to amuse myself with tracing out
fancied analogies in almost everything, and I may carry it too far--too
far--to be spoken of wisely. I think it enlarges one's field of pleasure
very much. Where one eye is stopped, another is but invited on."
"So," said Mr. Carleton, "while that puff of smoke would lead one
person's imagination only down the chimney to the kitchen fire, it
would take another's----where did yours go?" said he suddenly turning
round upon her.
Fleda met his eye again, without speaking; but her look had perhaps more
than half revealed her thought, for she was answered with a smile so
intelligent and sympathetic that she was abashed.
"How very much religion heightens the enjoyments of life," Mr. Carleton
said after a while.
Fieda's heart throbbed an answer; she did not speak.
"Both in its direct and indirect action. The mind is set free from
influences that narrowed its range and dimmed its vision; and refined to a
keener sensibility, a juster perception, a higher power of appreciation,
by far, than it had before. And then, to say nothing of religion's own
peculiar sphere of enjoyment, technically religious,--what a field of
pleasure it opens to its possessor in the world of moral beauty, most
partially known to any other,--and the fine but exquisite analogies of
things material with things spiritual,--those _harmonies of Nature_, to
which, talk as they will, all other ears are deaf!"
"You know," said Fleda with full eyes that she dared not shew, "how Henry
Martyn said that he found he enjoyed painting and music so much more after
he became a Christian."
"I remember. It is the substituting a just medium for a false one--it is
putting nature within and nature without in tune with each other, so that
the chords are perfect now which were jarring before."
"And yet how far people would be from believing you, Mr. Carleton."
"Yes--they are possessed with the contrary notion. But in all the
creation nothing has a one-sided usefulness;--what a reflection it would
be upon the wisdom of its author if godliness alone were the
exception--if it were not 'profitable for the life that now is, as well
as for that which is to come'!"
"They make that work the other way, don't they?" said Fleda.--"Not being
able to see how thorough religion should be for anybody's happiness, they
make use of your argument to conclude that it is not what the Bible
requires. How I have heard that urged--that God intended his creatures to
be happy--as a reason why they should disobey him. They lay hold on the
wrong end of the argument and work backwards."
"'God intended his creatures to be happy.
"'Strict obedience would make them unhappy.
"'Therefore, he does not intend them to obey.'"
"They never put it before them quite so clearly," said Fleda.
"They would startle at it a little. But so they would at the right stating
of the case."
"And how would that be, Mr. Carleton?"
"It might be somewhat after this fashion--
"'God requires nothing that is not for the happiness of his people--
"'He requires perfect obedience--
"'Therefore perfect obedience is for their happiness'
"But unbelief will not understand that. Did it ever strike you how much
there is in those words 'Come and see'?--All that argument can do, after
all, is but to persuade to that. Only faith will submit to terms and enter
the narrrow gate; and only obedience knows what the prospect is on the
"But isn't it true, Mr. Carleton, that the world have some cause for their
opinion?--judging as they do by the outside? The peculiar pleasures of
religion, as you say, are out of sight, and they do not always find in
religious people that enlargement and refinement of which you were
"Because they make unequal comparisons. Recollect that, as God has
declared, the ranks of religion are not for the most part filled from the
wise and the great. In making your estimate you must measure things equal
in other respects. Compare the same man with himself before he was a
Christian or with his unchristianized fellows--and you will find
invariably the refining, dignifying, ennobling, influence of true
religion; the enlarged intelligence and the greater power of enjoyment."
"And besides those causes of pleasure-giving that you mentioned," said
Fleda,--"there is a mind at ease; and how much that is alone. If I may
judge others by myself,--the mere fact of being unpoised--unresting--
disables the mind from a thousand things that are joyfully relished by
one entirely at ease."
"Yes," said he,--"do you remember that word--'The stones of the field
shall be at peace with thee'?"
"I am afraid people would understand you as little as they would me, Mr.
Carleton," said Fleda laughing.
He smiled, rather a prolonged smile, the expression of which Fleda could
not make out; she felt that _she_ did not quite understand him.
"I have thought," said he after a pause, "that much of the beauty we find
in many things is owing to a hidden analogy--the harmony they make with
some unknown string of the mind's harp which they have set a vibrating.
But the music of that is so low and soft that one must listen very closely
to find out what it is."
"Why that is the very theory of which I gave you a smoky illustration a
little while ago," said Fleda. "I thought I was on safe ground, after what
you said about the characters of flowers, for that was a little--"
"Fanciful?" said he smiling.
"What you please," said Fleda colouring a little,--"I am sure it is true.
The theory, I mean. I have many a time felt it, though I never put it in
words. I shall think of that."
"Did you ever happen to see the very early dawn of a winter's
morning?" said he.
But he laughed the next instant at the comical expression of Fleda's face
as it was turned to him.
"Forgive me for supposing you as ignorant as myself. I have seen
"Appreciated it, I hope, that time?" said Fleda.
"I shall never forget it."
"And it never wrought in you a desire to see it again?"
"I might see many a dawn," said he smiling, "without what I saw then. It
was very early--and a cloudy morning, so that night had still almost
undisturbed possession of earth and sky; but in the south-eastern quarter,
between two clouds, there was a space of fair white promise, hardly making
any impression upon the darkness but only set off by it. And upon this one
bright spot in earth or heaven, rode the planet of the morning--the sun's
forerunner--bright upon the brightness. All else was dusky--except where
overhead the clouds had parted again and shewed a faint old moon,
glimmering down upon the night it could no longer be said to 'rule'."
"Beautiful!" said Fleda. "There is hardly any time I like so well as the
dawn of a winter morning with an old moon in the sky. Summer weather has
no beauty like it--in some things."
"Once," continued Mr, Carleton, "I should have seen no more than I have
told you--the beauty that every cultivated eye must take in. But now,
methought I saw the dayspring that has come upon a longer night--and from
out of the midst of it there was the fair face of the morning star looking
at me with its sweet reminder and invitation--looking over the world with
its aspect of triumphant expectancy;--there was its calm assurance of the
coming day,--its promise that the star of hope which now there were only a
few watching eyes to see, should presently be followed by the full beams
of the Sun of righteousness making the kingdoms of the world his
own.--Your memory may bring to you the words that came to mine,--the
promise 'to him that overcometh', and the beauty of the lips that made
it--the encouragement to 'patient continuance in well-doing', 'till the
day break and the shadows flee away.'--And there on the other hand was the
substituted light of earth's wisdom and inventions, dominant yet, but
waning and soon to be put out for ever."
Fleda was crying again, and perhaps that was the reason why Mr. Carleton
was silent for some time. She was very sorry to shew herself so weak, but
she could not help it; part of his words had come too close. And when she
had recovered again she was absolutely silent too, for they were nearing
Sloman-street and she could not take him there with her. She did not know
what to say, nor what he would think; and she said not another word till
they came to the corner. There she must stop and speak.
"I am very much obliged to you, Mr. Carleton," she said drawing her hand
from his arm, "for taking care of me all this disagreeable way--I will not
give you any more trouble."
"You are not going to dismiss me?" said he looking at her with a
countenance of serious anxiety.
"I must," said Fleda ingenuously,--"I have business to attend to here--"
"But you will let me have the pleasure of waiting for you?"
"O no," said Fleda hesitating and flushing,--"thank you, Mr.
Carleton,--but pray do not--I don't know at all how long I may be
He bowed, she thought gravely, and turned away, and she entered the little
wretched street; with a strange feeling of pain that she could not
analyze. She did not know where it came from, but she thought if there
only had been a hiding-place for her she could have sat down and wept a
whole heartful. The feeling must be kept back now, and it was soon
forgotten in the throbbing of her heart at another thought which took
The sun was not down, there was time enough, but it was with a step and
eye of hurried anxiety that Fleda passed along the little street, for fear
of missing her quest or lest Dinah should have changed her domicil. Yet
would her uncle have named it for their meeting if he had not been sure
of it? It was very odd he should have appointed that place at all, and
Fleda was inclined to think he must have seen Dinah by some chance, or it
never would have come into his head. Still her eye passed unheeding over
all the varieties of dinginess and misery in her way, intent only upon
finding that particular dingy cellar-way which used to admit her to
Dinah's premises. It was found at last, and she went in.
The old woman, herself most unchanged, did not know the young lady, but
well remembered the little girl whom Fleda brought to her mind. And then
she was overjoyed to see her, and asked a multitude of questions, and told
a long story of her having met Mr. Rossitur in the street the other day
"in the last place where she'd have looked to see him;" and how old he had
grown, and how surprised she had been to see the grey hairs in his head.
Fleda at last gave her to understand that she expected him to meet her
there and would like to see him alone; and the good woman immediately took
her work into another apartment, made up the fire and set up the chairs,
and leaving her assured Fleda she would lock up the doors "and not let no
one come through."
It was sundown, and later, Fleda thought, and she felt as if every pulse
was doing double duty. No matter--if she were shattered and the work done.
But what work!--Oh the needlessness, the cruelty, the folly of it! And how
much of the ill consequences she might be unable after all to ward off.
She took off her hat, to relieve a nervous smothered feeling; and walked,
and sat down; and then sat still, from trembling inability to do anything
else. Dinah's poor little room, clean though it was, looked to her the
most dismal place in the world from its association with her errand; she
hid her face on her knees that she might have no disagreeableness to
contend with but that which could not be shut out.
It had lain there some time, till a sudden felling of terror at the
growing lateness made her raise it to look at the window. Mr. Rossitur was
standing still before her, he must have come in very softly,--and
looking,--oh Fleda had not imagined him looking so changed. All was
forgotten,--the wrong, and the needlessness, and the indignation with
which she had sometimes thought of it; Fleda remembered nothing but love
and pity, and threw herself upon his neck with such tears of tenderness
and sympathy, such kisses of forgiveness and comfort-speaking, as might
have broken a stouter heart than Mr. Rossitur's. He held her in his arms
for a few minutes, passively suffering her caresses, and then gently
unloosing her hold placed her on a seat; sat down a little way off,
covered his face and groaned aloud.
Fleda could not recover herself at once. Then shaking off her agitation
she came and knelt down by his side and putting one arm over his shoulder
laid her cheek against his forehead. Words were beyond reach, but his
forehead was wet with her tears; and kisses, of soft entreaty, of winning
assurance, said all she could say.
"What did you come here for, Fleda?" said Mr. Rossitur at length, without
changing his position.
"To bring you home, uncle Rolf."
"Home!" said he, with an accent between bitterness and despair.
"Yes, for it's all over, it's all forgotten--there is no more to be said
about it at all," said Fleda, getting her words out she didn't know how.
"What is forgotten?" said he harshly.
"All that you would wish, sir," replied Fleda softly and gently;--"there
is no more to be done about it; and I came to tell you if possible before
it was too late. Oh I'm so glad!--" and her arms and her cheek pressed
closer as fresh tears stopped her voice.
"How do you know, Fleda?" said Mr. Rossitur raising his head and bringing
hers to his shoulder, while his arms in turn enclosed her.
Fleda whispered, "He told me so himself."
The words were but just spoken above her breath. Mr. Rossitur was silent
for some time.
"Are you sure you understood him?"
"Yes, sir; it could not have been spoken plainer."
"Are you quite sure he meant what he said, Fleda?"
"Perfectly sure, uncle Rolf! I know he did."
"What stipulation did he make beforehand?"
"He did it without any stipulation, sir."
"What was his inducement then? If I know him he is not a man to act
Fleda's cheek was dyed, but except that she gave no other answer.
"Why has it been left so long?" said her uncle presently.
"I don't know, sir--he said nothing about that. He promised that neither
we nor the world should hear anything more of it."
"The world?" said Mr. Rossitur.
"No sir, he said that only one or two persons had any notion of it and
that their secrecy he had the means of securing."
"Did he tell you anything more?"
"Only that he had the matter entirely under his control and that never a
whisper of it should be heard again, No promise could be given more fully
Mr. Rossitur drew a long breath, speaking to Fleda's ear very great
relief, and was silent.
"And what reward is he to have for this, Fleda?" he said after some
"All that my hearty thanks and gratitude can give, as far as I am
"Is that what he expects, Fleda?"
"I cannot help what he expects," said Fleda, in some distress.
"What have you engaged yourself to, my child?"
"Nothing in the world, uncle Rolf!" said Fleda earnestly--"nothing in the
world. I haven't engaged myself to anything. The promise was made freely,
without any sort of stipulation."
Mr. Rossitur looked thoughtful and disquieted. Fleda's tears were
"I will not trust him," he said,--"I will not stay in the country!"
"But you will come home, uncle?" said Fleda, terrified.
"Yes my dear child--yes my dear child!" he said tenderly, putting his arms
round Fleda again and kissing, with an earnestness of acknowledgment that
went to her heart, her lips and brow,--"you shall do what you will with
me; and when I go, we will all go together."
From Queechy! From America!--But she had no time for that thought now.
"You said 'for Hugh's sake,'" Mr. Rossitur observed after a pause, and
with some apparent difficulty;--"what of him?"
"He is not well, uncle Rolf," said Fleda,--"and I think the best medicine
will be the sight of you again."
Mr. Rossitur looked pale and was silent a moment.
"And my wife?" he said.
His face, and the thought of those faces at home, were too much for Fleda;
she could not help it; "Oh, uncle Rolf," she said, hiding her face, "they
only want to see you again now!"
Mr. Rossitur leaned his head in his hands and groaned; and Fleda could but
cry; she felt there was nothing to say.
"It was for Marion," he said at length;--"it was when I was hard pressed
and I was fearful if it were known that it might ruin her prospects.--I
wanted that miserable sum--only four thousand dollars--that fellow
Schwiden asked to borrow it of me for a few days, and to refuse would have
been to confess all. I dared not try my credit, and I just madly took that
step that proved irretrievable--I counted at the moment upon funds that
were coming to me only the next week, sure, I thought, as possible,--but
the man cheated me, and our embarrassments thickened from that time; that
thing has been a weight--oh a weight of deadening power!--round my neck
ever since. I have died a living death these six years!--"
"I know it, dear uncle--I know it all!" said Fleda, bringing the
sympathizing touch of her cheek to his again.
"The good that it did has been unspeakably overbalanced by the evil--even
long ago I knew that."
"The good that it did"! It was no time _then_ to moralize, but he must
know that Marion was at home, or he might incautiously reveal to her what
happily there was no necessity for her ever knowing. And the story must
give him great and fresh pain----
"Dear uncle Rolf!" said Fleda pressing closer to him, "we may be happier
than we have been in a long time, if you will only take it so. The cloud
upon you has been a cloud upon us."
"I know it!" he exclaimed,--"a cloud that served to shew me that my jewels
"You have an accession to your jewels, uncle Rolf."
"What do you mean?"
"I mean," said Fleda trembling, "that there are two more at home."
He held her back to look at her.
"Can't you guess who?"
"No!" said he. "What do you mean?"
"I must tell you, because they know nothing, and needn't know, of all
"What are you talking about?"
"Marion is there----"
"Marion!" exclaimed Mr. Rossitur, with quick changes of expression,--"
Marion!--At Queechy!--and her husband?"
"No sir,--a dear little child."
"Marion!--and her husband--where is he?"
"I don't know--I don't know whether she knows--"
"Is he dead?"
Mr. Rossitur put her away and got up and walked, or strode, up and down,
up and down, the little apartment. Fleda dared not look at him, even by
the faint glimmer that came from the chimney.
But abroad it was perfectly dark--the stars were shining, the only lamps
that illumined the poor little street, and for a long time there had been
no light in the room but that of the tiny wood fire. Dinah never could be
persuaded of the superior cheapness of coal. Fleda came at last to her
uncle's side and putting her arm within his said,
"How soon will you set off for home, uncle Rolf?"
"You must take the boat to Bridgeport now--you know the river is fast."
"Yes I know----"
"Then I will meet you at the wharf, uncle Rolf,--at what o'clock?"
"My dear child," said he, stopping and passing his hand tenderly over her
cheek, "are you fit for it to-morrow? You had better stay where you are
quietly for a few days--you want rest."
"No, I will go home with you," said Fleda, "and rest there. But hadn't we
better let Dinah in and bid her good bye? for I ought to be somewhere else
to get ready."
Dinah was called, and a few kind words spoken, and with a more
substantial remembrance, or reward, from Fleda's hand, they left her.
Fleda had the support of her uncle's arm till they came within sight of
the house, and then he stood and watched her while she went the rest of
the way alone.
[Illustration: Then he stood and watched her.]
Anything more white and spirit-looking, and more spirit-like in its
purity and peacefulness, surely did not walk that night. There was music
in her ear, and abroad in the star-light, more ethereal than Ariel's,
but she knew where it came from; it was the chimes of her heart that
were ringing; and never a happier peal, nor never had the mental
atmosphere been more clear for their sounding. Thankfulness,--that was
the oftenest note,--swelling thankfulness for her success,--joy for
herself and for the dear ones at home,--generous delight at having been
the instrument of their relief,--the harmonies of pure affections,
without any grating now,--the hope well grounded she thought, of
improvement in her uncle and better times for them all,--a childlike
peace that was at rest with itself and the world,--these were mingling
and interchanging their music, and again and again in the midst of it
all, faith rang the last chime in heaven.
As some lone bird at day's departing hour
Sings in the sunbeam of the transient shower,
Forgetful though its wings are wet the while.
Happily possessed with the notion that there was some hidden mystery in
Fleda's movements, Mrs. Pritchard said not a word about her having gone
out, and only spoke in looks her pain at the imprudence of which she
had been guilty. But when Fleda asked to have a carriage ordered to
take her to the boat in the morning, the good housekeeper could not
hold any longer.
"Miss Fleda," said she with a look of very serious remonstrance,--"I
don't know what you're thinking of, but _I_ know you're fixing to kill
yourself. You are no more fit to go to Queechy to-morrow than you were to
be out till seven o'clock this evening; and if you saw yourself you
wouldn't want me to say any more. There is not the least morsel of colour
in your face, and you look as if you had a mind to get rid of your body
altogether as fast as you can! You want to be in bed for two days
running, now this minute."
"Thank you, dear Mrs. Pritchard," said Fleda smiling; "you are very
careful of me; but I must go home to-morrow, and go to bed afterwards."
The housekeeper looked at her a minute in silence, and then said, "Don't,
dear Miss Fleda!"--with an energy of entreaty which brought the tears into
Fleda's eyes. But she persisted in desiring the carriage; and Mrs.
Pritchard was silenced, observing however that she shouldn't wonder if she
wasn't able to go after all. Fleda herself was not without a doubt on the
subject before the evening was over. The reaction, complete now, began to
make itself felt; and morning settled the question. She was not able even
to rise from her bed.
The housekeeper was, in a sort, delighted; and Fleda was in too passive a
mood of body and mind to have any care on the subject. The agitation of
the past days had given way to an absolute quiet that seemed as if nothing
could ever ruffle it again, and this feeling was seconded by the extreme
prostration of body. She was a mere child in the hands of her nurse, and
had, Mrs. Pritchard said, "if she wouldn't mind her telling,--the sweetest
baby-face that ever had so much sense belonging to it."
The morning was half spent in dozing slumbers, when Fleda heard a rush of
footsteps, much lighter and sprightlier than good Mrs. Pritchard's, coming
up the stairs and pattering along the entry to her room; and with little
ceremony in rushed Florence and Constance Evelyn. They almost smothered
Fleda with their delighted caresses, and ran so hard their questions about
her looks and her illness, that she was well nigh spared the trouble of
"You horrid little creature!" said Constance,--"why didn't you come
straight to our house? just think of the injurious suspicions you have
exposed us to!--to say nothing of the extent of fiction we have found
ourselves obliged to execute. I didn't expect it of you, little Queechy."
Fleda kept her pale face quiet on the pillow, and only smiled her
"But when did you come back, Fleda?" said Miss Evelyn.
"We should never have known a breath about your being here," Constance
went on. "We were sitting last night in peaceful unconsciousness of there
being any neglected calls upon our friendship in the vicinity, when Mr.
Carleton came in and asked for you. Imagine our horror!--we said you had
gone out early in the afternoon and had not returned."
"You didn't say that!" said Fleda colouring.
"And he remarked at some length," said Constance, "upon the importance of
young ladies having some attendance when they are out late in the evening,
and that you in particular were one of those persons--he didn't say, but
he intimated, of a slightly volatile disposition,--whom their friends
ought not to lose sight of."
"But what brought you to town again, Fleda?" said the elder sister.
"What makes you talk so, Constance?" said Fleda.
"I haven't told you the half!" said Constance demurely. "And then mamma
excused herself as well as she could, and Mr. Carleton said very seriously
that he knew there was a great element of head-strongness in your
character--he had remarked it, he said, when you were arguing with Mr.
"Constance, be quiet!" said her sister. "_Will_ you tell me, Fleda, what
you have come to town for? I am dying with curiosity."
"Then it's inordinate curiosity, and ought to be checked, my dear," said
"I came to take care of some business that could not very well be attended
to at a distance."
"Who did you come with?"
"One of our Queechy neighbours that I heard was coming to New York."
"Wasn't your uncle at home?"
"Of course not. If he had been, there would have been no need of my
"But was there nobody else to do it but you?"
"Uncle Orrin away, you know; and Charlton down at his post--Fort
Hamilton, is it?--I forget which fort--he is fast there."
"He is not so very fast," said Constance, "for I see him every now and
then in Broadway shouldering Mr. Thorn instead of a musket; and he has
taken up the distressing idea that it is part of his duty to oversee the
progress of Florence's worsted-work--(I've made over that horrid thing to
her, Fleda)--or else his precision has been struck with the anomaly of
blue stars on a white ground, and he is studying that,--I don't know
which,--and so every few nights he rushes over from Governor's Island, or
somewhere, to prosecute enquiries. Mamma is quite concerned about him--she
says he is wearing himself out."
The mixture of amusement, admiration, and affection, with which the other
sister looked at her and laughed with her was a pretty thing to see.
"But where is your other cousin,--Hugh?" said Florence.
"He was not well."
"Where is your uncle?"
"He will be at home to-day I expect; and so should I have been--I meant to
be there as soon as he was,--but I found this morning that I was not well
enough,--to my sorrow."
"You were not going alone!"
"O no--a friend of ours was going to-day."
"I never saw anybody with so many friends!" said Florence. "But you are
coming to us now, Fleda. How soon are you going to get up?"
"O by to-morrow," said Fleda smiling;--"but I had better stay where I am
the little while I shall be here--I must go home the first minute I can
find an opportunity."
"But you sha'n't find an opportunity till we've had you," said Constance.
"I'm going to bring a carriage for you this afternoon. I could bear the
loss of your friendship, my dear, but not the peril of my own reputation.
Mr. Carleton is under the impression that you are suffering from a
momentary succession of fainting fits, and if we were to leave you here
in an empty house to come out of them at your leisure, what would he
think of us?"
What would he think!--Oh world! Is this it?
But Fleda was not able to be moved in the afternoon; and it soon appeared
that nature would take more revenge than a day's sleep for the rough
handling she had had the past week. Fleda could not rise from her bed the
next morning; and instead of that a kind of nondescript nervous fever set
in; nowise dangerous, but very wearying. She was nevertheless extremely
glad of it, for it would serve to explain to all her friends the change of
look which had astonished them. They would make it now the token of
coming, not of past, evil. The rest she took with her accustomed patience
and quietness, thankful for everything after the anxiety and the relief
she had just before known.
Dr. Gregory came home from Philadelphia in the height of her attack, and
aggravated it for a day or two with the fear of his questioning. But
Fleda was surprised at his want of curiosity. He asked her indeed what
she had come to town for, but her whispered answer of "Business," seemed
to satisfy him, for he did not inquire what the business was. He did ask
her furthermore what had made her get sick; but this time he was
satisfied more easily still, with a very curious sweet smile which was
the utmost reply Fleda's wits at the moment could frame. "Well, get
well," said he kissing her heartily once or twice, "and I won't quarrel
with you about it."
The getting well however promised to be a leisurely affair. Dr. Gregory
staid two or three days, and then went on to Boston, leaving Fleda in no
want of him.
Mrs. Pritchard was the tenderest and carefullest of nurres. The Evelyns
did everything _but_ nurse her. They sat by her, talked to her, made her
laugh, and not seldom made her look sober too, with their wild tales of
the world and the world's doings. But they were indeed very affectionate
and kind, and Fleda loved them for it. If they wearied her sometimes with
their talk, it was a change from the weariness of fever and silence that
on the whole was useful.
She was quieting herself one morning, as well as she could, in the midst
of both, lying with shut eyes against her pillow, and trying to fix her
mind on pleasant things, when she heard Mrs. Pritchard open the door and
come in. She knew it was Mrs. Pritchard, so she didn't move nor look. But
in a moment, the knowledge that Mrs. Pritchard's feet had stopped just by
the bed, and a strange sensation of something delicious saluting her made
her open her eyes; when they lighted upon a huge bunch of violets, just
before them and in most friendly neighbourhood to her nose. Fleda started
up, and her "Oh!" fairly made the housekeeper laugh; it was the very
quintessence of gratification.
"Where did you get them?"
"I didn't get them indeed, Miss Fleda," said the housekeeper gravely, with
an immense amount of delighted satisfaction.
"Delicious!--Where did they come from?"
"Well they must have come from a greenhouse, or hot-house, or something of
that kind, Miss Fleda,--these things don't grow nowhere out o' doors at
Mrs. Pritchard guessed Fleda had got the clue, from her quick change of
colour and falling eye. There was a quick little smile too; and "How
kind!" was upon the end of Fleda's tongue, but it never got any further.
Her energies, so far as expression was concerned, seemed to be
concentrated in the act of smelling. Mrs. Pritchard stood by.
"They must be put in water," said Fleda,--"I must have a dish for
them--Dear Mrs. Pritchard, will you get me one?"
The housekeeper went smiling to herself. The dish was brought, the violets
placed in it, and a little table at Fleda's request was set by the side of
the bed close to her pillow, for them to stand upon. And Fleda lay on her
pillow and looked at them.
There never were purer-breathed flowers than those. All the pleasant
associations of Fleda's life seemed to hang about them, from the time when
her childish eyes had first made acquaintance with violets, to the
conversation in the library a few days ago; and painful things stood
aloof; they had no part. The freshness of youth, and the sweetness of
spring-time, and all the kindly influences which had ever joined with both
to bless her, came back with their blessing in the violets' reminding
breath. Fleda shut her eyes and she felt it; she opened her eyes, and the
little double blue things smiled at her good humouredly and said, "Here we
are--you may shut them again." And it was curious how often Fleda gave
them a smile back as she did so.
Mrs. Pritchard thought Fleda lived upon the violets that day rather than
upon food and medicine; or at least, she said, they agreed remarkably well
together. And the next day it was much the same.
"What will you do when they are withered?" she said that evening. "I shall
have to see and get some more for you."
"Oh they will last a great while," said Fleda smiling.
But the next morning Mrs. Pritchard came into her room with a great bunch
of roses, the very like of the one Fleda had had at the Evelyns'. She
delivered them with a sort of silent triumph, and then as before stood by
to enjoy Fleda and the flowers together. But the degree of Fleda's
wonderment, pleasure, and gratitude, made her reception of them, outwardly
at least, this time rather grave.
"You may throw the others away now, Miss Fleda," said the
"Indeed I shall not!--"
"The violets, I suppose, is all gone," Mrs. Pritchard went on;--but I
never _did_ see such a bunch of roses as that since I lived
anywhere.--They have made a rose of you, Miss Fleda."
"How beautiful!--" was Fleda's answer.
"Somebody--he didn't say who--desired to know particularly how Miss
Ringgan was to-day."
"Somebody is _very_ kind!" said Fleda from the bottom of her heart. "But
dear Mrs. Pritchard, I shall want another dish."
Somebody was kind, she thought more and more; for there came every day or
two the most delicious bouquets, every day different. They were _at least_
equal in their soothing and refreshing influences to all the efforts of
all the Evelyns and Mrs. Pritchard put together. There never came any name
with them, and there never was any need. Those bunches of flowers
certainly had a physiognomy; and to Fleda were (not the flowers but the
choosing, cutting, and putting of them together) the embodiment of an
amount of grace, refined feeling, generosity, and kindness, that her
imagination never thought of in connection with but one person. And his
kindness was answered, perhaps Mrs. Pritchard better than Fleda guessed
how well, from the delighted colour and sparkle of the eye with which
every fresh arrival was greeted as it walked into her room. By Fleda's
order the bouquets were invariably put out of sight before the Evelyns
made their first visit in the morning, and not brought out again till all
danger of seeing them any more for the day was past. The regular coming of
these floral messengers confirmed Mrs. Pritchard in her mysterious
surmises about Fleda, which were still further strengthened by this
incomprehensible order; and at last she got so into the spirit of the
thing that if she heard an untimely ring at the door she would catch up a
glass of flowers and run as if they had been contraband, without a word
The Evelyns wrote to Mrs. Rossitur, by Fleda's desire, so as not to alarm
her; merely saying that Fleda was not quite well, and that they meant to
keep her a little while to recruit herself; and that Mrs. Rossitur must
send her some clothes. This last clause was tha particular addition of
The fever lasted a fortnight, and then went off by degrees, leaving her
with a very small portion of her ordinary strength. Fleda was to go to the
Evelyns as soon as she could bear it; at present she was only able to come
down to the little back parlour and sit in the doctor's arm chair, and eat
jelly, and sleep, and look at Constance, and when Constance was not there
look at her flowers. She could hardly bear a book as yet. She hadn't a bit
of colour in her face, Mrs. Pritchard said, but she looked better than
when she came to town; and to herself the good housekeeper added, that she
looked happier too. No doubt that was true. Fleda's principal feeling,
ever since she lay down in her bed, had been thankfulness; and now that
the ease of returning health was joined to this feeling, her face with all
its subdued gravity was as untroubled in its expression as the faces of
She was disagreeably surprised one day, after she had been two or three
days down stairs, by a visit from Mrs. Thorn. In her well-grounded dread
of seeing one person Fleda had given strict orders that no _gentleman_
should be admitted; she had not counted upon this invasion. Mrs. Thorn had
always been extremely kind to her, but though Fleda gave her credit for
thorough good-heartedness, and a true liking for herself, she could not
disconnect her attentions from another thought, and therefore always
wished them away; and never had her kind face been more thoroughly
disagreeable to Fleda than when it made its appearance in the doctor's
little back parlour on this occasion. With even more than her usual
fondness, or Pleda's excited imagination fancied so, Mrs. Thorn lavished
caresses upon her, and finally besought her to go out and take the air in
her carriage. Fleda tried most earnestly to get rid of this invitation,
and was gently unpersuadable, till the lady at last was brought to promise
that she should see no creature during the drive but herself. An ominous
promise! but Fleda did not know any longer how, to refuse without hurting
a person for whom she had really a grateful regard. So she went. And
doubted afterwards exceedingly whether she had done well.
She took special good care to see nobody again till she went to the
Evelyns. But then precautions were at an end. It was no longer possible to
keep herself shut up. She had cause, poor child, the very first night of
her coming, to wish herself back again.
This first evening she would fain have pleaded weakness as her excuse and
gone to her room, but Constance laid violent hands on her and insisted
that she should stay at least a little while with them. And she seemed
fated to see all her friends in a bevy. First came Charlton; then followed
the Decaturs, whom she knew and liked very well, and engrossed her,
happily before her cousin had time to make any enquiries; then came Mr.
Carleton; then Mr. Stackpole. Then Mr. Thorn, in expectation of whom
Fleda's breath had been coming and going painfully all the evening. She
could not meet him without a strange mixture of embarrassment and
confusion with the gratitude she wished to express, an embarrassment not
at all lessened by the air of happy confidence with which he came forward
to her. It carried an intimation that almost took away the little strength
she had. And if anything could have made his presence more intolerable, it
was the feeling she could not get rid of that it was the cause why Mr.
Carleton did not come near her again; though she prolonged her stay in the
drawing-room in the hope that he would. It proved to be for Mr. Thorn's
"Well you staid all the evening after all," said Constance as they were
going up stairs.
"Yes--I wish I hadn't," said Fleda. "I wonder when I shall be likely to
find a chance of getting back to Queechy."
"You're not fit yet, so you needn't trouble yourself about it," said
Constance. "We'll find you plenty of chances."
Fleda could not think of Mr. Thorn without trembling. His manner meant--so
much more than it had any right, or than she had counted upon. He
seemed--she pressed her hands upon her face to get rid of the
impression--he seemed to take for granted precisely that which she had
refused to admit; he seemed to reckon as paid for that which she had
declined to set a price upon. Her uncle's words and manner came up in her
memory. She could see nothing best to do but to get home as fast as
possible. She had no one here to fall back upon. Again that vision of
father and mother and grandfather flitted across her fancy; and though
Fleda's heart ended by resting down on that foundation to which it always
recurred, it rested with a great many tears.
For several days she denied herself absolutely to morning visitors of
every kind. But she could not entirely absent herself from the
drawing-room in the evening; and whenever the family were at home there
was a regular levee. Mr. Thorn could not be avoided then. He was always
there, and always with that same look and manner of satisfied confidence.
Fleda was as grave, as silent, as reserved, as she could possibly be and
not be rude; but he seemed to take it in excellent good part, as being
half indisposition and half timidity. Fleda set her face earnestly towards
home, and pressed Mrs. Evelyn to find her an opportunity, weak or strong,
of going there; but for those days as yet none presented itself.
Mr. Carleton was at the house almost as often as Mr. Thorn, seldom staying
so long however, and never having any more to do with Fleda than he had
that first evening. Whenever he did come in contact with her, he was, she
thought, as grave as he was graceful. That was to be sure his common
manner in company, yet she could not help thinking there was some
difference since the walk they had taken together, and it grieved her.
The beat-laid schemes o' mice and men
Gang aft agley.
After a few days Charlton verified what Constance had said about his not
being very _fast_ at Fort Hamilton, by coming again to see them one
morning. Fleda asked him if he could not get another furlough to go with
her home, but he declared he was just spending one which was near out; and
he could not hope for a third in some time; he must be back at his post by
the day after to-morrow.
"When do you want to go, coz?"
"I would to-morrow, if I had anybody to go with me," said Fleda sighing.
"No you wouldn't," said Constance,--"you are well enough to go out now,
and you forget we are all to make Mrs. Thorn happy to-morrow night."
"I am not," said Fleda.
"Not? you can't help yourself; you must; you said you would."
"I did not indeed."
"Well then I said it for you, and that will do just as well. Why my dear,
if you don't--just think!--the Thorns will be in a state--I should prefer
to go through a hedge of any description rather than meet the trying
demonstrations which will encounter me on every side."
"I am going to Mrs. Decatur's," said Fleda;--"she invited me first, and I
owe it to her, she has asked me so often and so kindly."
"I shouldn't think you'd enjoy yourself there," said Florence; "they don't
talk a bit of English these nights. If I was going, my dear, I would act
as your interpreter, but my destiny lies in another direction."
"If I cannot make anybody understand my French I will get somebody to
condescend to my English," said Fleda.
"Why do you talk French?" was the instant question from both mouths.
"Unless she has forgotten herself strangely," said Charlton. "Talk! she
will talk to anybody's satisfaction--that happens to differ from her; and
I think her tongue cares very little which language it wags in. There is
no danger about Fleda's enjoying herself, where people are talking."
Fleda laughed at him, and the Evelyns rather stared at them both.
"But we are all going to Mrs. Thorn's? you can't go alone?"
"I will make Charlton take me," said Fleda,--"or rather I will take him,
if he will let me. Will you, Charlton? will you take care of me to Mrs.
Decatur's to-morrow night?"
"With the greatest pleasure, my dear coz, but I have another engagement in
the course of the evening."
"Oh that is nothing," said Fleda;--"if you will only go with me, that
is all I care for. You needn't stay but ten minutes. And you can call
for me," she added, turning to the Evelyns,--"as you come back from
To this no objection could be made, and the ensuing raillery Fleda bore
with steadiness at least if not with coolness; for Charlton heard it, and
she was distressed.
She went to Mrs. Decatur's the next evening in greater elation of spirits
than she had known since she left her uncle's; delighted to be missing
from the party at Mrs. Thorn's, and hoping that Mr. Lewis would be
satisfied with this very plain hint of her mind. A little pleased too to
feel quite free, alone from too friendly eyes, and ears that had too
lively a concern in her sayings and doings. She did not in the least care
about going to Mrs. Decatur's; her joy was that she was not at the other
place. But there never was elation so outwardly quiet. Nobody would have
suspected its existence.
The evening was near half over when Mr. Carleton came in. Fleda had half
hoped he would be there, and now immediately hoped she might have a
chance to see him alone and to thank him for his flowers; she had not
been able to do that yet. He presently came up to speak to her just as
Charlton, who had found attraction enough to keep him so long, came to
tell he was going.
"You are looking better," said the former, as gravely as ever, but with an
eye of serious interest that made the word something.
"I am better," said Fleda gratefully.
"So much better that she is in a hurry to make herself worse," said her
cousin. "Mr. Carleton, you are a professor of medicine, I believe,--I have
an indistinct impression of your having once prescribed a ride on
horseback for somebody;--wouldn't you recommend some measure of prudence
to her consideration?"
"In general," Mr. Carleton answered gravely; "but in the present case I
could not venture upon any special prescription, Capt. Rossitur."
"As for instance, that she should remain in New York till she is fit to
leave it?--By the way, what brought you here again in such a hurry, Fleda?
I haven't heard that yet."
The question was rather sudden. Fleda was a little taken by surprise; her
face shewed some pain and confusion both. Mr. Carleton prevented her
answer, she could not tell whether with design.
"What imprudence do you charge your cousin with, Capt. Rossitur?"
"Why she is in a great hurry to get back to Queechy, before she is able
to go anywhere--begging me to find an escort for her. It is lucky I
can't. I didn't know I ever should be glad to be 'posted up' in this
fashion, but I am."
"You have not sought very far, Capt. Rossitur," said the voice of Thorn
behind him. "Here is one that will be very happy to attend Miss Fleda,
whenever she pleases."
Fleda's shocked start and change of countenance was seen by more eyes
than one pair. Thorn's fell, and a shade crossed his countenance too, for
an instant, that Fleda's vision was too dazzled to see. Mr. Carleton
"Why are _you_ going to Queechy?" said Charlton astonished.
His friend was silent a moment, perhaps for want of power to speak. Fleda
dared not look at him.
"It is not impossible,--unless this lady forbid me. I am not a fixture."
"But what brought you here, man, to offer your services?" said
Charlton;--"most ungallantly leaving so many pairs of bright eyes to shine
upon your absence."
"Mr. Thorn will not find himself in darkness here, Capt. Rossitur," said
"It's my opinion he ought, ma'am," said Charlton.
"It is my opinion every man ought, who makes his dependance on gleams of
sunshine," said Mr. Thorn rather cynically. "I cannot say I was thinking
of brightness before or behind me."
"I should think not," said Charlton;--"you don't look as if you had seen
any in a good while."
"A light goes out every now and then," said Thorn, "and it takes one's
eyes some time to get accustomed to it. What a singular world we live in,
"That is so new an idea," said the lady laughing, "that I must request an
"What new experience of its singularity has your wisdom made?" sid his
friend. "I thought you and the world knew each other's faces pretty
"Then you have not heard the news?"
"Hum--I suppose it is not about yet," said Thorn composedly. "No--you
haven't heard it."
"But what, man?" said Charlton,--"let's hear your news, for I must be
"Why--but it is no more than rumour yet--but it is said that strange
things are coming to light about a name that used to be held in very
"In this city?"
"In this city?--yes--it is said proceedings are afoot against one of our
oldest citizens, on charge of a very grave offence."
"Who?--and what offence? what do you mean?"
"Is it a secret, Mr. Thorn?" said Mrs. Decatur.
"If you have not heard, perhaps it is as well not to mention names too
soon;--if it comes out it will be all over directly; possibly the family
may hush it up, and in that case the less said the better; but those have
it in hand that will not let it slip through their fingers."
Mrs. Decatur turned away, saying "how shocking such things were;" and
Thorn, with a smile which did not however light up his face, said,
"You may be off, Charlton, with no concern for the bright eyes you leave
behind you--I will endeavour to atone for my negligence elsewhere, by my
mindfulness of them."
"Don't excuse you," said Charlton;--but his eye catching at the moment
another attraction opposite in the form of man or woman, instead of
quitting the room he leisurely crossed it to speak to the new-comer; and
Thorn with an entire change of look and manner pressed forward and offered
his arm to Fleda, who was looking perfectly white. If his words had needed
any commentary it was given by his eye as it met hers in speaking the last
sentence to Mrs. Decatur. No one was near whom she knew and Mr. Thorn led
her out to a little back room where the gentlemen had thrown off their
cloaks, where the air was fresher, and placing her on a seat stood waiting
before her till she could speak to him.
"What do you mean, Mr. Thorn?" Fleda looked as much as said, when she
could meet his face.
"I may rather ask you what _you_ mean, Miss Fleda," he answered gravely.
Fleda drew breath painfully.
"I mean nothing," she said lowering her head again,--"I have done
"Did you think I meant nothing when I agreed to do all you wished?"
"I thought you said you would do it freely," she said, with a tone of
voice that might have touched anybody, there was such a sinking of
heart in it.
"Didn't you understand me?"
"And is it all over now?" said Fleda after a pause.
"Not yet--but it soon may be. A weak hand may stop it now,--it will soon
be beyond the power of the strongest."
"And what becomes of your promise that it should no more be heard of?"
said Fleda, looking up at him with a colourless face but eyes that put the
question forcibly nevertheless.
"Is any promise bound to stand without its conditions?"
"I made no conditions," said Fleda quickly.
"Forgive me,--but did you not permit me to understand them?"
"No!--or if I did I could not help it."
"Did you say that you wished to help it?" said he gently.
"I must say so now, then, Mr. Thorn," said Fleda withdrawing the hand he
had taken;--"I did not mean or wish you to think so, but I was too ill to
speak--almost to know what I did--It was not my fault--"
"You do not make it mine, that I chose such a time, selfishly, I grant, to
draw from your lips the words that are more to me than life?"
"Cannot you be generous?"--_for once_, she was very near saying.
"Where you are concerned, I do not know how."
Fleda was silent a moment, and then bowed her face in her hands.
"May I not ask that question of you?" said he, bending down and
endeavouring to remove them;--"will you not say--or look--that word that
will make others happy beside me?"
"I cannot, sir."
"Not for their sakes?" he said calmly.
"Can you ask me to do for theirs what I would not for my own?"
"Yes--for mine," he said, with a meaning deliberateness.
Fleda was silent, with a face of white determination.
"It will be beyond _eluding_, as beyond recall, the second time. I may
seem selfish--I am selfish--but dear Miss Ringgan you do not see all,--you
who make me so can make me anything else with a touch of your hand--it is
selfishness that would be bound to your happiness, if you did but entrust
it to me."
Fleda neither spoke nor looked at him and rose up from her chair.
"Is this _your_ generosity?" he said, pointedly though gently.
"That is not the question now, sir," said Fleda, who was trembling
painfully. "I cannot do evil that good may come."
"But _evil_?" said he detaining her,--"what evil do I ask of you?--to
_remove_ evil, I do."
Fleda clasped her hands, but answered calmly,
"I cannot make any pretences, sir;--I cannot promise to give what is not
in my power."
"In whose power then?" said he quickly.
A feeling of indignation came to Fleda's aid, and she turned away. But he
stopped her still.
"Do you think I do not understand?" he said with a covert sneer that had
the keenness and hardness, and the brightness, of steel.
"_I_ do not, sir," said Fleda.
"Do you think I do not know whom you came here to meet?"
Fleda's glance of reproach was a most innocent one, but it did not
"Has that fellow renewed his old admiration of you?" he went on in the
"Do not make me desire his old protection," said Fleda, her gentle face
roused to a flush of displeasure.
"Protection!" said Charlton coming in,--"who wants protection? here it
is--protection from what? my old friend Lewis? what the deuce does this
lady want of protection, Mr. Thorn?"
It was plain enough that Fleda wanted it, from the way she was drooping
upon his arm.
"You may ask the lady herself," said Thorn, in the same tone he had before
used,--"I have not the honour to be her spokesman."
"She don't need one," said Charlton,--"I addressed myself to you--speak
for yourself, man."
"I am not sure that it would be her pleasure I should," said Thorn.
"Shall I tell this gentleman, Miss Ringgan, who needs protection, and
Fleda raised her head, and putting her hand on his arm looked a
concentration of entreaty--lips were sealed.
"Will you give me," said he gently taking the hand in his own, "your
sign manual for Capt. Rossitur's security? It is not too late.--Ask it
of her, sir!"
"What does this mean?" said Charlton looking from his cousin to his
"You shall have the pleasure of knowing, sir, just so soon as I find it
"I will have a few words with you on this subject, my fine fellow," said
Capt. Rossitur, as the other was preparing to leave the room.
"You had better speak to somebody else," said Thorn. "But I am ready."
Charlton muttered an imprecation upon his absurdity, and turned his
attention to Fleda, who needed it. And yet desired anything else. For a
moment she had an excuse for not answering his questions in her inability;
and then opportunely Mrs. Decatur came in to look after her; and she was
followed by her daughter. Fleda roused all her powers to conceal and
command her feelings; rallied herself; said she had been a little weak and
faint; drank water, and declared herself able to go back into the
drawing-room. To go home would have been her utmost desire, but at the
instant her energies were all bent to the one point of putting back
thought and keeping off suspicion. And in the first hurry and bewilderment
of distress the dread of finding herself alone with Charlton till she had
had time to collect her thoughts would of itself have been enough to
prevent her accepting the proposal.
She entered the drawing-room again on Mrs. Decatur's arm, and had stood a
few minutes talking or listening, with that same concentration of all her
faculties upon the effort to bear up outwardly, when Charlton came up to
ask if he should leave her. Fleda made no objection, and he was out of her
sight, far enough to be beyond reach or recall, when it suddenly struck
her that she ought not to have let him go without speaking to
him,--without entreating him to see her in the morning before he saw
Thorn. The sickness of this new apprehension was too much for poor Fleda's
power of keeping up. She quietly drew her arm from Mrs. Decatur's, saying
that she would sit down; and sought out a place for herself apart from the
rest by an engraving stand; where for a little while, not to seem
unoccupied, she turned over print after print that she did not see. Even
that effort failed at last; and she sat gazing at one of Sir Thomas
Lawrence's bright-faced children, and feeling as if in herself the tides
of life were setting back upon their fountain preparatory to being still
forever. She became sensible that some one was standing beside the
engravings, and looked up at Mr. Carleton.
"Are you ill?" he said, very gently and tenderly.
The answer was a quick motion of Fleda's hand to her head, speaking sudden
pain, and perhaps sudden difficulty of self-command. She did not speak.
"Will you have anything?"
A whispered "no."
"Would you like to return to Mrs. Evelyn's?--I have a carriage here."
With a look of relief that seemed to welcome him as her good angel, Pleda
instantly rose up, and took the arm he offered her. She would have
hastened from the room then, but he gently checked her pace; and Fleda was
immediately grateful for the quiet and perfect shielding from observation
that his manner secured her. He went with her up the stairs, and to the
very door of the dressing-room. There Fleda hurried on her shoes and
mufflers in trembling fear that some one might come and find her, gained
Mr. Carleton's arm again, and was placed in the carriage.
The drive was in perfect silence, and Fleda's agony deepened and
strengthened with every minute. She had freedom to think, and thought did
but carry a torch into chamber after chamber of misery. There seemed
nothing to be done. She could not get hold of Charlton; and if she
could?--Nothing could be less amenable than his passions to her gentle
restraints. Mr. Thorn was still less approachable or manageable, except in
one way, that she did not even think of. His insinuations about Mr.
Carleton did not leave even a tinge of embarrassment upon her mind; they
were cast from her as insulting absurdities, which she could not think of
a second time without shame.
The carriage rolled on with them a long time without a word being said.
Mr. Carleton knew that she was not weeping nor faint. But as the light of
the lamps was now and then cast within the carriage he saw that her face
looked ghastly; and he saw too that its expression was not of a quiet
sinking under sorrow, nor of an endeavour to bear up against it, but a
wild searching gaze into the darkness of _possibilities_. They had near
reached Mrs. Evelyn's.
"I cannot see you so," he said, gently touching the hand which lay
listlessly beside him. "You are ill!"
Again the same motion of the other hand to her face, the quick token of
great pain suddenly stirred.
"For the sake of old times, let me ask," said he, "can nothing be done?"
Those very gentle and delicate tones of sympathy and kindness Were too
much to bear. The hand was snatched away to be pressed to her face. Oh
that those old times were back again, and she a child that could ask his
protection!--No one to give it now.
He was silent a moment. Fleda's head bowed beneath the mental pressure.
"Has Dr. Gregory returned?"
The negative answer was followed by a half-uttered exclamation of
longing,--checked midway, but sufficiently expressive of her want.
"Do you trust me?" he said after another second of pausing.
"Perfectly!" said Fleda amidst her tears, too much excited to know what
she was saying, and in her simplicity half forgetting that she was not a
child still;--"more than any one in the world!"
The few words he had spoken, and the manner of them, had curiously borne
her back years in a minute; she seemed to be under his care more than for
the drive home. He did not speak again for a minute; when he did his tone
was very quiet and lower than before.
"Give me what a friend _can_ have in charge to do for you, and it
shall be done."
Fleda raised her head and looked out of the window in a silence of doubt.
The carriage stopped at Mrs. Evelyn's.
"Not now," said Mr. Carleton, as the servant was about to open the
door;--"drive round the square--till I speak to you."
Fleda was motionless and almost breathless with uncertainty. If Charlton
could be hindered from meeting Mr. Thorn--But how, could Mr. Carleton
effect it?--But there was that in him or in his manner which invariably
created confidence in his ability, or fear of it, even in strangers; and
how much more in her who had a childish but very clear recollection of
several points in his character which confirmed the feeling. And might not
something be done, through his means, to facilitate her uncle's escape? of
whom she seemed to herself now the betrayer.--But to tell him the story
I--a person of his high nice notions of character--what a distance it
would put even between his friendship and her,--but that thought was
banished instantly, with one glance at Mr. Thorn's imputation of
ungenerousness. To sacrifice herself to _him_ would not have been
generosity,--to lower herself in the esteem of a different character, she
felt, called for it. There was time even then too for one swift thought of
the needlessness and bitter fruits of wrong-doing. But here they
were;--should she make them known?--and trouble Mr. Carleton, friend
though he were, with these miserable matters in which he had no
concern?--She sat with a beating heart and a very troubled brow, but a
brow as easy to read as a child's. It was the trouble of anxious
questioning. Mr. Carleton watched it for a little while,--undecided as
ever, and more pained.
"You said you trusted me," he said quietly, taking her hand again.
"But--I don't know what you could do, Mr. Carleton," Fleda said with a
"Will you let me be the judge of that?"
"I cannot bear to trouble you with these miserable things--"
"You cannot," said he with that same quiet tone, "but by thinking and
saying so. I can have no greater pleasure than to take pains for you."
Fleda heard these words precisely and with the same simplicity as a child
would have heard them, and answered with a very frank burst of
tears,--soon, as soon as possible, according to her custom, driven back;
though even in the act of quieting herself they broke forth again as
uncontrollably as at first. But Mr. Carleton had not long to wait. She
raised her head again after a short struggle, with the wonted look of
patience sitting upon her brow, and wiping away her tears paused merely
for breath and voice. He was perfectly silent.
"Mr. Carleton, I will tell you," she began;--"I hardly know whether I
ought or ought not,--" and her hand went to her forehead for a
moment,--"but I cannot think to-night--and I have not a friend to
She hesitated; and then went on, with a voice that trembled and
"Mr. Thorn has a secret--of my uncle's--in his power--which he
promised--without conditions--to keep faithfully; and now insists that he
will not--but upon conditions--"
"And cannot the conditions be met?"
"No--and--O I may as well tell you at once?" said Fleda in bitter
sorrow,--"it is a crime that he committed--"
"No--oh no!" said Fleda weeping bitterly,--"not he--"
Her agitation was excessive for a moment; then she threw it off, and spoke
more collectedly, though with exceeding depression of manner.
"It was long ago--when he was in trouble--he put Mr. Thorn's name to a
note, and never was able to take it up;--and nothing was ever heard about
it till lately; and last week he was going to leave the country, and Mr.
Thorn promised that the proceedings should be entirely given up; and that
was why I came to town, to find uncle Rolf and bring him home; and I did,
and he is gone; and now Mr. Thorn says it is all going on again and that
he will not escape this time;--and I have done it!--"
Fleda writhed again in distress.
"Thorn promised without conditions?"
"Certainly--he promised freely--and now he insists upon them; and you
see uncle Rolf would have been safe out of the country now, if it hadn't
been for me--"
"I think I can undo this snarl," said Mr. Carleton calmly.
"But that is not all," said Fleda, a little quieted;--"Charlton came in
this evening when we were talking, and he was surprised to find me so, and
Mr. Thorn was in a very ill humour, and some words passed between them;
and Charlton threatened to see him again; and Oh if he does!" said poor
Fleda,--"that will finish our difficulties!--for Charlton is very hot, and
I know how it will end--how it must end--"
"Where is your cousin to be found?"
"I don't know where he lodges when he is in town."
"You did not leave him at Mrs. Decatur's. Do you know where he is
"Yes!" said Fleda, wondering that she should have heard and
remembered,--"he said he was going to meet a party of his brother
officers at Mme. Fouche's--a sister-in-law of his Colonel, I believe."
"I know her. This note--was it the name of the young Mr. Thorn, or of his
father that was used?"
"Of his father!--"
"Has _he_ appeared at all in this business?"
"No," said Fleda, feeling for the first time that there was something
notable about it.
"What sort of person do you take him to be?"
"Very kind--very pleasant, always, he has been to me, and I should think
to everybody,--very unlike the son"
Mr. Carleton had ordered the coachman back to Mrs. Evelyn's.
"Do you know the amount of the note? It may be desirable that I should not
"It was for four thousand dollars" Fleda said in the low voice of shame.
"And when given?"
"I don't know exactly--but six years ago--some time in the winter of '43,
it must have been."
He said no more till the carriage stopped; and then before handing her out
of it, lifted her hand to his lips. That carried all the promise Fleda
wanted from him. How oddly, how curiously, her hand kept the feeling of
that kiss upon it all night.
Heat not a furnace for your friend so hot
That it may singe yourself.
Mr. Carleton went to Mme. Fouche's, who received most graciously, as
any lady would, his apology for introducing himself unlooked-for, and
begged that he would commit the same fault often. As soon as
practicable he made his way to Charlton, and invited him to breakfast
with him the next morning.
Mrs. Carleton always said it never was known that Guy was refused anything
he had a mind to ask. Charlton, though taken by surprise, and certainly
not too much prepossessed in his favour, was won by an influence that
where its owner chose to exert it was generally found irresistible; and
not only accepted the invitation, but was conscious to himself of doing it
with a good deal of pleasure. Even when Mr. Carleton made the further
request that Capt. Rossitur would in the mean time see no one on business,
of any kind, intimating that the reason would then be given, Charlton
though startling a little at this restraint upon his freedom of motion
could do no other than give the desired promise, and with the utmost
Guy then went to Mr. Thorn's.--It was by this time not early.
"Mr. Lewis Thorn--is he at home?"
"He is, sir," said the servant admitting him rather hesitatingly.
"I wish to see him a few moments on business."
"It is no hour for business," said the voice of Mr. Lewis from over the
balusters;--"I can't see anybody to-night."
"I ask but a few minutes," said Mr. Carleton. "It is important."
"It may be any thing!" said Thorn. "I won't do business after
Mr. Carleton desired the servant to carry his card, with the same request,
to Mr, Thorn the elder.
"What's that?" said Thorn as the man came up stairs,--"my father?--Pshaw!
_he_ can't attend to it--Well, walk up, sir, if you please!--may as well
have it over and done with it."
Mr. Carleton mounted the stairs and followed the young gentleman into an
apartment to which he rapidly led the way.
"You've no objections to this, _I_ suppose?" Thorn remarked as he locked
the door behind them.
"Certainly not," said Mr. Carleton coolly, taking out the key and putting
it in his pocket;--"my business is private--it needs no witnesses."
"Especially as it so nearly concerns yourself," said Thorn sneeringly.
"Which part of it, sir?" said Mr. Carleton with admirable breeding. It
vexed at the same time that it constrained Thorn.
"I'll let you know presently!" he said, hurriedly proceeding to the lower
end of the room where some cabinets stood, and unlocking door after door
in mad haste.
The place had somewhat the air of a study, perhaps Thorn's private room. A
long table stood in the middle of the floor, with materials for writing,
and a good many books were about the room, in cases and on the tables,
with maps and engravings and portfolios, and a nameless collection of
articles, the miscellaneous gathering of a man of leisure and some
Their owner presently came back from the cabinets with tokens of a very
different kind about him.
"There, sir!" he said, offering to his guest a brace of most
inhospitable-looking pistols,--"take one and take your stand, as soon as
you please--nothing like coming to the point at once!"
He was heated and excited even more than his manner indicated. Mr.
Carleton glanced at him and stood quietly examining the pistol he had
taken. It was all ready loaded.
"This is a business that comes upon me by surprise," he said calmly,--"I
don't know what I have to do with this, Mr. Thorn."
"Well I do," said Thorn, "and that's enough. Take your place, sir! You
escaped me once, but"--and he gave his words dreadful emphasis,--"you
won't do it the second time!"
"You do not mean," said the other, "that your recollection of such an
offence has lived out so many years?"
"No sir! no sir!" said Thorn,--"it is not that. I despise it, as I do the
offender. You have touched me more nearly."
"Let me know in what," said Mr. Carleton turning his pistol's mouth down
upon the table and leaning on it.
"You know already,--what do you ask me for?" said Thorn who was
foaming,--"if you say you don't you lie heartily. I'll tell you nothing
but out of _this_--"
"I have not knowingly injured you, sir,--in a whit."
"Then a Carleton may be a liar," said Thorn, "and you are one--dare say
not the first. Put yourself there, sir, will you?"
"Well," said Guy carelessly,--"if it is decreed that I am to fight of
course there's no help for it; but as I have business on hand that might
not be so well done afterwards I must beg your attention to that in the
"No, sir," said Thorn,--"I'll attend to nothing--I'll hear nothing from
you. I know you!--I'll not hear a word. I'll see to the business!--Take
"I will not have anything to do with pistols," said Mr. Carleton coolly,
laying his out of his hand;--"they make too much noise."
"Who cares for the noise?" said Thorn. "It won't hurt you; and the door
"But people's ears are not," said Guy.
Neither tone nor attitude nor look had changed in the least its calm
gracefulness. It began to act upon Thorn.
"Well, in the devil's name, have your own way," said he, throwing down his
pistol too, and going back to the cabinets at the lower end of the
room,--"there are rapiers here, if you like them better--_I_ don't,--the
shortest the best for me,--but here they are--take your choice."
Guy examined them carefully for a few minutes, and then laid them both,
with a firm hand upon them, on the table.
"I will choose neither, Mr. Thorn, till you have heard me. I came here to
see you on the part of others--I should be a recreant to my charge if I
allowed you or myself to draw me into anything that might prevent my
fulfilling it. That must be done first."
Thorn looked with a lowering brow on the indications of his opponent's eye
and attitude; they left him plainly but one course to take.
"Well speak and have done," he said as in spite of himself;--but I know
"I am here as a friend of Mr. Rossitur."
"Why don't you say a friend of somebody else, and come nearer the truth?"
There was an intensity of expression in his sneer, but pain was there
as well as anger; and it was with even a feeling of pity that Mr.
"The truth will be best reached, sir, if I am allowed to choose my
There was no haughtiness in the steady gravity of this speech,
whatever there was in the quiet silence he permitted to follow. Thorn
did not break it.
"I am informed of the particulars concerning this prosecution of Mr.
Rossitur--I am come here to know if no terms can be obtained."
"No!" said Thorn,--"no terms--I won't speak of terms. The matter will
be followed up now till the fellow is lodged in jail, where he
deserves to be."
"Are you aware, sir, that this, if done, will be the cause of very great
distress to a family who have _not_ deserved it?"
"That can't be helped," said Thorn. "Of course!--it must cause distress,
but you can't act upon that. Of course when a man turns rogue he ruins his
family--that's part of his punishment--and a just one."
"The law is just," said Mr. Carleton,--"but a friend may be merciful."
"I don't pretend to be a friend," said Thorn viciously,--"and I have no
cause to be merciful. I like to bring a man to public shame when he has
forfeited his title to anything else; and I intend that Mr. Rossitur shall
become intimately acquainted with the interior of the State's Prison."
"Did it ever occur to you that public shame _might_ fall upon other than
Mr. Rossitur? and without the State Prison?"
Thorn fixed a somewhat startled look upon the steady powerful eye of his
opponent, and did not like its meaning.
"You must explain yourself, sir," he said haughtily.
"I am acquainted with _all_ the particulars of this proceeding, Mr.
Thorn. If it goes abroad, so surely will they."
"She told you, did she?" said Thorn in a sudden flash of fury.
Mr. Carleton was silent, with his air of imperturbable reserve,
telling and expressing nothing but a cool independence that put the
world at a distance.
"Ha!" said Thorn,--"it is easy to see why our brave Englishman comes
here to solicit 'terms' for his honest friend Rossitur--he would not
like the scandal of franking letters to Sing Sing. Come, sir," he said
snatching up the pistol,--"our business is ended--come, I say! or I
won't wait for you."
But the pistol was struck from his baud.
"Not yet," said Mr. Carleton calmly,--"you shall have your turn at
these,--mind, I promise you;--but my business must be done first--till
then, let them alone!"
"Well what is it?" said Thorn impatiently. "Rossitur will be a convict, I
tell you; so you'll have to give up all thoughts of his niece, or pocket
her shame along with her. What more have you got to say? that's all your
business, I take it."
"You are mistaken, Mr. Thorn," said Mr. Carleton gravely.
"Am I? In what?"
"In every position of your last speech."
"It don't affect your plans and views, I suppose, personally, whether this
prosecution is continued or not?"
"It does not in the least."
"It is indifferent to you, I suppose, what sort of a Queen consort you
carry to your little throne of a provinciality down yonder?"
"I will reply to you, sir, when you come back to the subject," said Mr.
"You mean to say that your pretensions have not been in the way of mine?"
"I have made none, sir."
"Doesn't she like you?"
"I have never asked her."
"Then what possessed her to tell you all this to-night?"
"Simply because I was an old friend and the only one at hand, I presume."
"And you do not look for any reward of your services, of course?"
"I wish for none, sir, but her relief."
"Well, it don't signify," said Thorn with a mixture of expressions in his
face,--"if I believed you, which I don't,--it don't signify a hair what
you do, when once this matter is known. I should never think of advancing
_my_ pretensions into a felon's family."
"You know that the lady in whose welfare you take so much interest will in
that case suffer aggravated distress as having been the means of hindering
Mr. Rossitur's escape,"
"Can't help it," said Thorn, beating the table with a ruler;--"so she has;
she must suffer for it. It isn't my fault."
"You are willing then to abide the consequences of a full disclosure of
all the circumstances?--for part will not come out without the whole?"
"There is happily nobody to tell them," said Thorn with a sneer.
"Pardon me--they will not only be told, but known thoroughly in all the
circles in this country that know Mr. Thorn's name."
"_The lady_" said Thorn in the same tone, "would hardly relish such
a publication of _her_ name--_her welfare_ would be scantily
advantaged by it."
"I will take the risk of that upon myself," said Mr. Carleton quietly;
"and the charge of the other."
"You dare not!" said Thorn. "You shall not go alive out of this room to do
it! Let me have it, sir! you said you would--"
His passion was at a fearful height, for the family pride which had been
appealed to felt a touch of fear, and his other thoughts were confirmed
again, besides the dim vision of a possible thwarting of all his plans.
Desire almost concentrated itself upon revenge against the object that
threatened them. He had thrown himself again towards the weapons which lay
beyond his reach, but was met and forcibly withheld from them.
"Stand back!" said Mr. Carleton. "I said I would, but I am not
ready;--finish this business first."
"What is there to finish?" said Thorn furiously;--"you will never live to
do anything out of these doors again--you are mocking yourself."
"My life is not in your hands, sir, and I will settle this matter before I
put it in peril. If not with you, with Mr. Thorn your father, to whom it
more properly belongs."
"You cannot leave the room to see him," said Thorn sneeringly.
"That is at my pleasure," said the other,--"unless hindered by means I do
not think you will use."
Thorn was silent.
"Will you yield anything of justice, once more, in favour of this
"That is, yield the whole, and let the guilty go free."
"When the punishment of the offender would involve that of so many
unoffending, who in this case would feel it with peculiar severity."
"He deserves it, if it was only for the money he has kept me out of--he
ought to be made to refund what he has stolen, if it took the skin off
"That part of his obligation," said Mr. Carleton, "I am authorized to
discharge, on condition of having the note given up. I have a cheque
with me which I am commissioned to fill up, from one of the best names
here. I need only the date of the note, which the giver of the cheque
did not know."
Thorn hesitated, again tapping the table with the ruler in a troubled
manner. He knew by the calm erect figure before him and the steady eye he
did not care to meet that the threat of disclosure would be kept. He was
not prepared to brave it,--in case his revenge should fail;--and if it
"It is deuced folly," he said at length with a half laugh,--"for I shall
have it back again in five minutes, if my eye don't play me a
trick,--however, if you will have it so--I don't care. There are chances
in all things--"
He went again to the cabinets, and presently brought the endorsed note.
Mr. Carleton gave it a cool and careful examination, to satisfy himself of
its being the true one; and then delivered him the cheque; the blank duly
"There are chances in nothing, sir," he said, as he proceeded to burn the
note effectually in the candle.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean that there is a Supreme Disposer of all things, who among the rest
has our lives in his hand. And now, sir, I will give you that chance at my
life for which you have been so eagerly wishing."
[Illustration: "Well, take your place," said Thorn.]
"Well take your place," said Thorn seizing his pistol,--"and take your
arms--put yourself at the end of the table----!"
"I shall stand here," said Mr. Carleton, quietly folding his arms;--"you
may take your place where you please."
"But you are not armed!" said Thorn impatiently,--"why don't you get
ready? what are you waiting for?"
"I have nothing to do with arms," said Mr. Carleton smiling; "I have no
wish to hurt you, Mr. Thorn; I bear you no ill-will. But you may do what
you please with me."
"But you promised!" said Thorn in desperation.
"I abide by my promise, sir."
Thorn's pistol hand fell; he looked _dreadfully_. There was a silence of
"Well?"--said Mr. Carleton looking up and smiling.
"I can do nothing unless you will," said Thorn hoarsely, and looking
"I am at your pleasure, sir! But on my own part I have none to gratify."
There was silence again, during which Thorn's face was pitiable in its
darkness. He did not stir.
"I did not come here in enmity, Mr. Thorn," said Guy after a little
approaching him;--"I have none now. If you believe me you will throw away