Part 4 out of 8
but they were after a different fashion. In a moment of calm and
reason, I might have believed this truth; nay, I knew it, even at
those moments when I was most unjust. It was not the truth that I
required so much as the presence of an attachment which could equal
mine in its degree and strength. This was not in her nature. She
was one taught to subdue her nature, to repress the tendencies of
her heart, to submit in silence and in meekness. She had invariably
done so until the insane urgency of her mother made her desperate.
But for this desperation she had still submitted, perhaps, had never
been my wife. In the fervent intensity of my own love, I fancied,
from the beginning, that there was something too temperate in the
tone of hers. Were I to be examined now, on this point, I should
say that her deportment was one which declared the nicest union
of sensibility and maidenly propriety. But, compared with mine,
her passions were feeble, frigid. Mine were equally intense and
exacting. Perhaps, had she even responded to my impetuosity with
a like fervor, I should have recoiled from her with a feeling of
disgust much more rapid and much more legitimate, than was that of
my present frenzy.
Frenzy it was! and it led me to the performance of those things
of which I shame to speak. But the truth, and its honest utterance
now, must be one of those forms of atonement with which I may
hope, perhaps vainly, to lessen, in the sight of Heaven, some of
my human offences. I had scarcely reached the water-side before
a new impulse drove me back. You will scarcely believe me when I
tell you that I descended to the base character of the spy upon my
household. The blush is red on my cheek while I record the shameful
error. I entered the garden, stole like a felon to the lattice of
the apartment in which my wife sat with her guest, and looked in
with a greedy fear, upon the features of the two!
What were my own features then? What the expression of my eyes?
It was well that I could not see them; I felt that they must be
frightful. But what did I expect to see in this espionage? As I
live, honestly now, and with what degree of honesty I then possessed,
I may truly declare that when I THOUGHT upon the subject at all,
I had no more suspicion that my wife would be guilty of any gross
crime, than I had of the guilt of the Deity himself. Far from it.
Such a fancy never troubled me. But, what was it to me, loving as
I did, exclusive, and selfish, and exacting as I was--what was it
to me if, forbearing all crime of conduct, she yet regarded another
with eyes of idolatry--if her mind was yielded up to him in deference
and regard; and thoughts, disparaging to me, filled her brain with
his superior worth, manners, merits? He had tastes, perhaps talents,
which I had not. In the forum, in all the more energetic, more
imposing performances of life, William Edgerton, I knew, could
take no rank in competition with myself. But I was no ladies' man.
I had no arts of society. My manners were even rude. My address
was direct almost to bluntncss. I had no discriminating graces,
and could make no sacrifice, in that school of polish, where the
delicacy is too apt to become false, and the performances trifling.
It is idle to dwell on this; still more idle to speculate upon
probable causes. It may be that there are persons in the world of
both sexes, and governed by like influences, who have been guilty
of like follies; to them my revelations may be of service. My
discoveries, if I have made any, were quite too late to be of much
help to me.
To resume, I prowled like a guilty phantom around my own habitation. I
scanned closely, with the keenest eyes of jealousy, every feature,
every movement of the two within. In the eyes of Edgerton,
I beheld--I did not deceive myself in this--I beheld the speaking
soul, devoted, rapt, full of love for the object of his survey.
That he loved her was to me sufficiently clear. His words were few,
faintly spoken, timid. His eyes did not encounter hers; but when
hers were averted, they riveted their fixed glances upon her face
with the adherence of the yearning steel for the magnet! Bitterly
did I gnash my teeth--bitterly did my spirit rise in rebellion, as
I noted these characteristics. But, vainly, with all my perversity
of feeling and judgment, did I examine the air, the look, the
action, the expression, the tones, the words of my wife, to make a
like discovery. All was passionless, all seeming pure, in her whole
conduct. She was gentle in her manner, kind in her words, considerate
in her attentions; but so entirely at ease, so evidently unconscious,
as well of improper thoughts in herself as of an improper tendency
in him, that, though still resolute to be wilful and unhappy, I
yet could see nothing of which I could reasonably complain. Nay,
I fancied that there was a touch of listlessness, amounting to
indifference, in her air, as if she really wished him to be gone;
and, for a moment, my heart beat with a returning flood of tenderness,
that almost prompted me to rush suddenly into the apartment and
clasp her to my arms.
At length, Edgerton departed. When he rose to do so, I felt
the awkwardness of my situation--the meanness of which I had been
guilty--the disgrace which would follow detection. The shame I
already felt; but, though sickening beneath it, the passion which
drove me into the commission of so slavish an act, was still superior
to all others, and could not then be overcome. I hurried from the
window and from the premises while he was taking his leave. My mind
was still in a frenzy. I rambled off, unconsciously, to the most
secluded places along the suburbs, endeavoring to lose the thoughts
that troubled me. I had now a new cause for vexation. I was haunted
by a conviction of my own shame. How could I look Julia in the
face--how meet and speak to her, and hear the accents of her voice
and my own after the unworthy espionage which I had instituted
upon her? Would not my eyes betray me--my faltering accents, my
abashed looks, my flushed and burning cheeks? I felt that it was
impossible for me to escape detection. I was sure that every look,
every tone, would sufficiently betray my secret. Perhaps I should
not have felt this fear, had I possessed the conrage to resolve
against the repetition of my error. Could I have declared this
resolution to myself, to forego the miserable proceeding which
I had that night begun, I feel that I should then have taken one
large step toward my own deliverance from that formidable fiend
which was then raging unmastered in my soul. But I lacked the courage
for this. Fatal deficiency! I felt impressed with the necessity of
keeping a strict watch upon Edgerton. I had seen, with eyes that
could not be deceived, the feeling which had been expressed in his.
I saw that he loved her, perhaps, without a consciousness himself
of the unhappy truth. I hurried to the conclusion, accordingly,
that he must be looked after. I did not so immediately perceive
that in looking after him, I was, in truth, looking after Julia;
for what was my watch upon Edgerton but a watch upon her? I had not
the confidence in her to leave her to herself. That was my error.
The true reasoning by which a man in my situation should be governed,
is comprised in a nutshell. Either the wife is virtuous or she is
not. If she is virtuous, she is safe without my espionage. If she
is not, all the watching in the world will not suffice to make her
so. As for the discovery of her falsehood, he will make that fast
enough. The security of the husband lies in his wife's purity, not
in his own eyes. It must be added to this argument that the most
virtuous among us, man or woman, is still very weak; and neither
wife, nor daughter, nor son, should be exposed to unnecessary
temptation. Do we not daily implore in our own prayers, to be saved
I need not strive to declare what were my thoughts and feelings as
I wandered off from my dwelling and place of espionage that night.
No language of which I am possessed could embody to the idea of
the reader the thousandth part of what I suffered. An insane and
morbid resentment filled my heart. A close, heavy, hot stupor,
pressed upon my brain. My limbs seemed feeble as those of a child.
I tottered in the streets. The stars, bright mysterious watchers,
seemed peering down into my face with looks of smiling inquiry. The
sudden bark of a watch-dog startled and unnerved me. I felt with
the consciousness of a mean action, all the humiliating weakness
which belongs to it.
It took me a goodly hour before I could muster up courage to return
home, and it was then midnight. Julia had retired to her chamber,
but not yet to her couch. She flew to me on my entrance--to my
arms. I shrunk from her embraces; but she grasped me with greater
firmness. I had never witnessed so much warmth in her before. It
surprised me, but the solution of it was easy. My long stay had
made her apprehensive. It was so unusual. My coldness, when she
embraced me, was as startling to her, as her sudden warmth was
surprising to me. She pushed me from her--still, however, holding
me in her grasp, while she surveyed me. Then she started, and with
Well she might. My looks alarmed her. My hair was dishevelled
and moist with the night-dews. My cheeks were very pale. There was
a quick, agitated, and dilating fullness of my eyes, which rolled
hastily about the apartment, never even resting upon her. They dared
not. I caught a hasty glance of myself in the mirror, and scarcely
knew my own features. It was natural enough that she should be
alarmed. She clung to me with increased fervency. She spoke hurriedly,
but clearly, with an increased and novel power of utterance, the
due result of her excitement. Could that excitement be occasioned
by love for me--by a suspicion of the truth, namely, that I had
been watching her? I shuddered as this last conjecture passed into
my mind. That, indeed, would be a humiliation--worse, more degrading,
by far, than all.
"Oh, why have you left me--so long, so very long? where have you
been? what has happened?"
"Ah, but there is something, Edward. Speak! what is it, dear husband?
I see it in your eyes, your looks! Why do you turn from me? Look
on me! tell me! You are very pale, and your eyes are so wild, so
strange! You are sick, dear Edward; you are surely sick: tell me,
what has happened?"
Wild and hurried as they were, never did tones of more touching
sweetness fall from any lips. They unmanned--nay, I use the wrong
word--they MANNED me for the time. They brought me back to my senses,
to a conviction of her truth, to a momentary conviction of my own
folly. My words fell from me without effort--few, hurried, husky--but
it was a sudden heartgush, which was unrestrainable.
"Ask me not, Julia-ask me nothing; but love me, only love me, and
all will be well--all is well."
"Do I not--ah! do I not love you, Edward?"
"I believe you--God be praised, I DO believe you!"
"Oh, surely, Edward, you never doubted this."
Such was the fervent ejaculation of my lips; such, in spite of its
seeming inconsistency, was the real belief within my soul. What
was it, then, that I did doubt? wherefore, then, the misery,
the suspense, the suspicion, which grew and gathered, corroding
in my heart, the parent of a thousand unnamed anxieties? It will
be difficult to answer. The heart of man is one of those strange
creations, so various in its moods, so infinite in its ramifications,
so subtle and sudden in its transitions, as to defy investigation
as certainly as it refuses remedy and relief. It is enough to say
that, with one schooled as mine had been, injuriously, and with
injustice, there is little certainty in any of its movements.
It becomes habitually capricious, feeds upon passions intensely,
without seeming detriment; and, after a season, prefers the unwholesome
nutriment which it has made vital, to those purer natural sources
of strength and succor, without which, though it may still enjoy
life, it can never know happiness.
PROGRESS OF PASSION.
"But, do not leave me another time--not so long, Edward Do not leave
me alone. Your business is one thing. THAT you must, of course,
attend to; but hours--not of business--hours in which you do no
business--hours of leisure--your evenings, Edward--these you must
share with me--you must give to me entirely. Ah! will you not? will
you not promise me?"
These were among the last words which she spoke to me ere we slept
that night. The next morning, almost at awaking, she resumed the
same language. I could not help perceiving that she spoke in tones
of greater earnestness than usual--an earnestness expressive of
anxiety for which I felt at some loss to account. Still, the tenor
of what she said, at the time, gave me pleasure--a satisfaction
which I did not seek to conceal, and which, while it lasted, was
the sweetest of all pleasures to my soul. But the busy devil in my
heart made his suggestions also, which were of a kind to produce
any other but satisfying emotions. While I stood in my wife's
presence--in the hearing of her angel-voice, and beholding the pure
spirit speaking out from her eyes--he lay dormant, rebuked, within
his prison-house, crouching in quiet, waiting a more auspicious
moment for activity. Nor was he long in waiting; and then his cold,
insinuating doubts--his inquiries--begot and startled mine!
"Very good--all very good!" Such was the tone of his suggestions."
She may well compound for the evenings with you, since she gives
her whole mornings to your rival."
Archimedes asked but little for the propulsion of the world. The
jealous spirit--a spirit jealous like mine--asks still for the
moving of that little but densely-populous world, the human heart.
I forgot the sweet tones of my wife's words--the pure-souled words
themselves--tones and words which, while their sounds yet lingered
in my ears, I could not have questioned--I did not dare to question.
The tempter grew in the ascendant the moment I had passed out of
her sight; and when I met William Edgerton the next day, he acquired
greatly-increased power over my understanding.
William Edgerton had evidently undergone a change. He no longer met
my glances boldly with his own. Perhaps, had he done so, my eyes
would have been the first to shrink from the encounter. He looked
down, or looked aside, when he spoke to me; his words were few,
timorous, hesitating, but studiously conciliatory; and he lingered
no longer in my presence than was absolutely unavoidable. Was there
not a consciousness in this? and what consciousness? The devil at
my heart answered, and answered with truth, "He loves your wife."
It would have been well, perhaps, had the cruel fiend said nothing
farther. Alas! I would have pardoned, nay, pitied William Edgerton,
had the same chuckling spirit not assured me that she also was not
insensible to him. I was continually reminded of the words, "Your
business must, of course, be attended to!"
--"What a considerate wife!" said the tempter; "how very unusual
with young wives, with whom business is commonly the very last
That very day, I found, on reaching home, that William Edgerton had
been there--had gone there almost the moment after he had left me
at the office; and that he had remained there, obviously at work
in the studio, until the time drew nigh for my return to dinner.
My feelings forbade any inquiries. These, facts were all related
by my wife herself. I did not ask to hear them. I asked for nothing
more than she told. The dread that my jealousy should be suspected
made me put on a sturdy aspect of indifference; and that exquisite
sense of delicacy, which governed every movement of my wife's heart
and conduct, forbade her to say--what yet she certainly desired I
should know--that, in all that time, she had not seen him, nor he
her. She had studiously kept aloof in her chamber so long as he
remained. Meanwhile, I brooded over their supposed long and secret
interviews. These I took for granted. The happiness they felt--the
mutual smile they witnessed--the unconscious sighs they uttered!
Such a picture of their supposed felicity as my morbid imagination
conjured up would have roused a doubly damned and damning fiend in
the heart of any mortal.
What a task was mine, struggling with these images, these convictions!--my
pride struggling to conceal, my feelings struggling to endure.
Then, there were other conflicts. What friends had the Edgertons
been to me--father, mother--nay, that son himself, once so fondly
esteemed, once so fondly esteeming! Of course, no ties such as
these could have made me patient under wrong. But they were such as
to render it necessary that the wrong should be real, unquestionable,
beyond doubt, beyond excuse. This I felt, this I resolved.
"I will wait! I will be patient! I will endure, though the vulture
gnaws incessant at my heart! I will do nothing precipitate. No,
no: I must beware of that! But let me prove them treacherous--let
them once falter, and go aside from the straight path, and then--oh,
Such, as in spoken words, was the unspoken resolution of my soul;
and this resolution required, first of all, that I should carry
out the base purpose which, without a purpose, I had already begun.
I must be a spy upon their interviews. They must be followed,
watched--eyes, looks, hands! Miserable necessity! but, under my
present feelings and determination, not the less a necessity. And
I, alone, must do it; I, alone, must peer busily into these mysteries,
the revelation of which can result only in my own ruin--seeking
still, with an earnest diligence, to discover that which I should
rather have prayed for eternal and unmitigated blindness, that I
might not see! Mine was, indeed, the philosophy of the madman.
I persevered in it like one. I yielded all opportunities for the
meeting of the parties--all opportunities which, in yielding, did
not expose me to the suspicion of having any sinister object. If,
for example, I found, or could conjecture, that William Edgerton
was likely to be at my house this or that evening, I studiously
intimated, beforehand, some necessity for being myself absent. This
carried me frequently from home--lone, wandering, vexing myself with
the most hideous conjectures, the most self-torturing apprehensions.
I sped away, obviously, into the city-to alleged meetings with friends
or clients--or on some pretence or other which seemed ordinary and
natural But my course was to return, and, under cover of night, to
prowl, around my own premises, like some guilty ghost, doomed to
haunt the scene of former happiness, in its wantonness rendered
a scene of ever-during misery. Certainly, no guilty ghost ever
suffered in his penal tortures a torture worse than mine at these
humiliating moments. It was torture enough to me that I was sensible
of all the unhappy meanness of my conduct. On this head, though I
strove to excuse myself on the score of a supposed necessity, I
could not deceive myself--not--not for the smallest moment.
Weeks passed in this manner--weeks to me of misery--of annoyance
and secret suffering to my wife. In this time, my espionage resulted
in nothing but what has been already shown--in what was already
sufficiently obvious to me. William Edgerton continued his insane
attentions: he sought my dwelling with studious perseverance--sought
it particularly at those periods when he fancied I was absent--when he
knew it--though such were not his exclusive periods of visitation.
He came at times when I was at home. His passion for my wife
was sufficiently evident to me, though her deportment was such as
to persuade mo that she did not see it. All that I beheld of her
conduct was irreproachable. There was a singular and sweet dignity
in her air and manner, when they were together, that seemed one of
the most insuperable barriers to any rash or presumptuous approach.
While there was no constraint about her carriage, there was no
familiarity--nothing to encourage or invite familiarity. While she
answered freely, responding to all the needs of a suggested subject,
she herself never seemed to broach one; and, after hours of nightly
watch, which ran through a period of weeks, in which I strove at
the shameful occupation of the espial, I was compelled to admit
that all her part was as purely unexceptionable as the most jealous
husband could have wished it.
But not so with the conduct of William Edgerton. His attentions
were increasing. His passion was assuming some of the forms of that
delirium to which, under encouragement, it is usually driven in
the end. He now passionately watched my wife's countenance, and
no longer averted his glance when it suddenly encountered hers.
His eyes, naturally tender in expression, now assumed a look
of irrepressible ardency, from which, I now fancied--pleased to
fancy--that hers recoiled! He would linger long in silence, silently
watching her, and seemingly unconscious, the while, equally of his
scrutiny and his silence. At such times, I could perceive that Julia
would turn aside, or her own eyes would be marked by an expression
of the coldest vacancy, which, but for other circumstances, or in
any other condition of my mind, would have seemed to me conclusive
of her indignation or dislike. But, when such became my thought,
it was soon expelled by some suggestion from the busy devil of my
"They may well put on this appearance now; but are such their looks
when they meet, sometimes for a whole morning, in the painting-room?"
Even here, the fiend was silenced by a fact which was revealed to
me in one of my nocturnal watches.
"Clifford not at home?" said Edgerton one evening as he entered,
addressing my wife, and looking indifferently around the room. "I
wished to tell him about some pictures which are to be seen at ----'s
room--really a lovely Guido--an infant Savior--and something, said
to be by Carlo Dolce, though I doubt. You must see them. Shall I
call for you tomorrow morning?"
"I thank you, but have an engagement for the morning."
"Well, the next day. They will remain but a few days longer in the
"I am sorry, but I shall not be able to go even the next day, I am
"Busy? ah! that reminds me to ask if you have given up the pencil
altogether? Have you wholly abandoned the studio? I never see you
now at work in the morning. I had no thought that you had so much
of the fashionable taste for morning calls, shopping, and the like."
"Nor have I," was the quiet answer. "I seldom leave home in the
"Indeed!" with some doubtfulness of countenance, almost amounting
to chagrin--"indeed! how is it that I so seldom see you, then?"
"The cares of a household, I suppose, might be my sufficient excuse.
While my liege lord works abroad, I find my duties sufficiently
urgent to task all my time at home."
"Really--but you do not propose to abandon the atelier entirely?
Clifford himself, with his great fondness for the art, will scarcely
be satisfied that you should, even on a pretence of work."
"I do not know. I do not think that MY HUSBAND"--the last two words
certainly emphasized--"cares much about it. I suspect that music
and painting, however much they delighted and employed our girlhood,
form but a very insignificant part of our duties and enjoyments
when we get married."
"But you do not mean to say that a fine landscape, or an exquisite
head, gives you less satisfaction than before your marriage?"
"I confess they do. Life is a very different thing before and after
marriage. It seems far more serious--it appears to me a possession
now, and time a sort of property which has to be economized and
doled out almost as cautiously as money. I have not touched a brush
this fortnight. I doubt if I have been in the painting-room more
than once in all this time."
This conversation, which evidently discomfited William Elgerton, was
productive to me of no small satisfaction. After a brief interval,
consumed in silence, he resumed it:--
"But I must certainly get you to see these pictures. Nay, I must
also--since you keep at home--persuade you to look into the studio
tomorrow, if it be only to flatter my vanity by looking at a sketch
which I have amused myself upon the last three mornings. By-the-way,
why may we not look at it tonight?"
"We shall not be able to examine it carefully by night," was the
answer, as I fancied, spoken with unwonted coldness and deliberation.
"So much the better for me," he replied, with an ineffectual attempt
to laugh; "you will be less able to discern its defects."
"The same difficulty will endanger its beauties," Julia answered,
without offering to rise.
"Well, at least, you must arrange for seeing the pictures at ----'s.
They are to remain but a few days, and I would not have you miss
seeing them for the world. Suppose you say Saturday morning?"
"If nothing happens to prevent," she said; "and I will endeavor
to persuade Mr. Clifford to look at them with us."
"Oh, he is so full of his law and clients, that you will hardly
This was spoken with evident dissatisfaction. The arrangement,
which included me, seemed unnecessary. I need not say that I was
better pleased with my wife than I had been for some time previous;
but here the juggling fiend interposed again, to suggest the painful
suspicion that she knew of my whereabouts, of my jealousy, of my
espionage; that her words were rather meant for my ears than for
those of Edgerton; or, if this were not the case, her manner to
Edgerton was simply adopted, as she had now become conscious of her
own feelings--feelings of peril--feelings which would not permit
her to trust herself. Ah! she feared herself: she had discovered
the passion of William Edgerton, and it had taught her the character
and tendency of her own. Was there ever more self-destroying
malice than was mine? I settled down upon this last conviction. My
wife's coldness was only assumed to prevent Edgerton from seeing
her weakness; and, for Edgerton himself, I now trembled with the
conviction that I should have to shed his blood.
This conviction now began to haunt my mind with all the punctuality
of a shadow. It came to me unconsciously, uncalled for; mingled
with other thoughts and disturbed them all. Whether at my desk, or
in the courts; among men in the crowded mart, or in places simply
where the idle and the thoughtless congregate, it was still my
companion. It was, however, still a shadow only; a dull, intangible,
half-formed image of the mind; the crude creature of a fear rather
than a desire; for, of a truth, nothing could be more really
terrible to me than the apparent necessity of taking the life of
one so dear to me once, and still so dear to the only friends I had
ever known. I need not say how silently I strove to banish this
conviction. My struggles on this subject were precisely those which
are felt by nervous men suddenly approaching a precipice, and,
though secure, flinging themselves off, in the extremity of their
apprehensions of that danger which has assumed in their imaginations
an aspect so absorbing. With such persons, the extreme anxiety
to avoid the deed, whether of evil or of mere danger, frequently
provokes its commission. I felt that this risk encountered me. I
well knew that an act often contemplated may be already considered
half-performed; and though I could not rid myself of the impression
that I was destined to do the deed the very idea of which made me
shudder, I yet determined, with all the remaining resolution of
my virtue, to dismiss it from my thought, as I resolved to escape
from its performance if I could.
It would have been easy enough for me to have kept this resolution as
it was enough for me to make it, had it not clashed with a superior
passion in my mind; but that blindness of heart under which I
labored, impaired my judgment, enfeebled my resolution, baffled
my prudence, defeated all my faculties of self-preservation. I was,
in fact, a monomaniac. On one subject, I was incapable of thought,
of sane reasoning, of fixed purpose. I am unwilling to distinguish
this madness by the word "jealousy." In the ordinary sense of the
term it was not jealousy. Phrenologists would call it an undue
development of self-esteem, diseased by frequent provocation into
an irritable suspiciousness, which influenced all the offices of
thought. It was certain, to myself, that in instituting the watch
which I did over the conduct of my wife and William Edgerton, I
did not expect to discover the commission of any gross act which,
in the vulgar acceptation of the world, constitutes the crime of
infidelity. The pang would not have been less to my mind, though
every such act was forborne, if I perceived that her eyes yearned
for his coming, and her looks of despondency took note of his
absence. If I could see that she hearkened to his words with the
ears of one who deferred even to devotedness, and found that pleasure
in his accents which should only have been accorded to mine. It is
the low nature, alone, which seeks for developments beyond these,
to constitute the sin of faithlessness. Of looks, words, consideration,
habitual deference, and eager attention, I was quite as uxorious
as I should have been of the warm kiss, or the yielding, fond
embrace. They were the same in my eyes. It was for the momentary
glance, the passing word, the forgetful sigh, that I looked and
listened, while I pursued the unhappy espionage upon my wife and
her lover. That he was her lover, was sufficiently evident--how
far she was pleased with his devotion was the question to be asked
The self-esteem which produced these developments of jealousy, in
my own home, was not unexercised abroad. The same exacting nature
was busy among my friends and mere acquaintance. Of these I had
but few; to these I could be devoted; for these I could toil; for
these I could freely have perished! But I demanded nothing less from
them. Of their consideration and regard I was equally uxorious as
I was of the affections of my wife. I was an INTENSIFIER in all my
relations, and was not willing to divide or share my sympathies.
I became suspicious when I found any of my acquaintance forming
new intimacies, and sunk into reserves which necessarily produced
a severance of the old ties between us. It naturally followed that
my few friends became fewer, and I finally stood alone. But enough
of self-analysis, which, in truth, owes its origin to the very
same mental quality which I have been discussing--the presence and
prevalence of EGOISME. Let us hurry our progress.
My wife advised me of the visit which William Edgerton had proposed
to the picture collection.
"I will go," she said, "if you will."
"You must go without me."
"Ah, why? Surely, you can go one morning?"
"Impossible. The morning is the time for business. THAT must be
attended to, you know."
"But you needn't slave yourself at it because it is business,
Edward. But that I know that you are not a money-loving man, I should
suppose, sometimes, from the continual plea of business, that you
were a miser, and delighted in filling old stockings to hide away
in holes and chinks of the wall. Come, now, Saturday is not usually
a busy day with you lawyers; steal it this once and go with us. I
lose half the pleasure of the sight always, when you are not with
me, and when I know that you are engaged in working for me elsewhere."
"Ah, you mistake, Julia. You shall not flatter me into such a faith.
You lose precious little by my absence."
"But, Edward, I do; believe me--it is true."
"Impossible! No, no, Julia, when you look on the Carlo Dolce and
the Guido, you will forget not only the toils of the husband, but
that you have one at all. You will forget my harsh features in the
contemplation of softer ones."
"Your features are not harsh ones, Edward."
"Nay, you shall not persuade me that I am not an Orson--a very wild
man of the woods. I know I am. I know that I have harsh features;
nay, I fancy you know it too, by this time, Julia."
"I admit the sternness at times, Edward, but I deny the harshness.
Besides, sternness, you know, is perfectly compatible with the
possession of the highest human beauty. I am not sure that a certain
portion of sternness is not absolutely necessary to manly beauty.
It seems to me that I have never yet seen what I call a handsome
man, whose features had not a certain sweet gravity, a sort of
melancholy defiance, in them which neutralized the effect of any
effeminacy which mere beauty must have had; and imparted to them
a degree of character which compelled you to turn again and look,
and made you remember them, even when they had disappeared from
sight. Now, it may be the vanity of a wife, Edward, but it seems
to me that this is the very sort of face which you possess."
"Ah! you are very vain of me, I know--very!"
"Proud, fond--not vain!"
"You deceive yourself still, I suspect, even with your distinctions.
But you must forego the pleasure of displaying my 'stern beauties,'
as your particular possession, at the gallery. You must content yourself
with others not so sterm, though perhaps not less beautiful, and
certainly more amiable. Edgerton will be your sufficient chaperon."
"Yes, but I do not wish to be troubling Mr. Edgerton so frequently;
and, indeed, I would rather forego the pleasure of seeing the
pictures altogether, than trespass in this way upon his attention
"Indeed, but I am very sure you do not trespass upon either. He
is an idle, good fellow, relishes anything better than business,
and you know has such a passion for painting and pictures that its
indulgence seems to justify anything to his mind. He will forget
everything in their pursuit."
All this was said with a studious indifference of manner. I was
singularly successful in concealing the expression of that agony
which was gnawing all the while upon my heart. I could smile, too,
while I was speaking--while I was suffering! Look calmly into her
face and smile, with a composure, a strength, the very consciousness
of which was a source of terrible overthrow to me at last. I was
surprised to perceive an air of chagrin upon Julia's countenance,
which was certainly unstudied. She was one of those who do not
well conceal or cloak their real sentiments. The faculty of doing
so is usually much more strongly possessed by women than by men--much
more easily commanded--but SHE had little of it. Why should she
wear this expression of disappointment--chagrin! Was she really
anxious that I should attend her? I began to think so--began to
relent, and think of promising that I would go with her, when she
somewhat abruptly laid her hand upon my arm.
"Edward, you leave me too frequently. You stay from me too long,
particularly at evening. Do not forget, dear husband, how few female
friends I have; how few friends of any sort--how small is my social
circle. Besides, it is expected of all young people, newly married,
that they will be frequently together; and when it is seen that
they are often separate--that the wife goes abroad alone, or goes
in the company of persons not of the family, it begets a suspicion
that all is not well--that there is no peace, no love, in the family
so divided. Do not think, Edward, that I mean this reproachfully--that
I mean complaint--that I apprehend the loss of your love: oh no!
I dread too greatly any such loss to venture upon its suspicion
lightly, but I would guard against the conjectures of others--"
"So, then, it is not that you really wish my company. It is be-cause
you would simply maintain appearances."
"I would do both, Edward. God knows I care as little for mere
appearances, so long as the substances, are good, as you do; but I
confess I would not have the neighbors speak of me as the neglected
wife; i would not have you the subject of vulgar reproach."
"To what does all this tend?" I demanded impatiently.
"To nothing, Edward, if by speaking it I make you angry."
"Do not speak it, then!" was my stern reply.
"I will not; do not turn away--do not be angry:" here she sobbed
once, convulsively; but with an effort of which I had not thought
her capable, she stifled the painful utterance, and continued
grasping my wrist as she spoke with both her hands, and speaking
in a whisper--
"You are not going to leave me in anger. Oh, no! Do not! Kiss
me, dear husband, and forgive me. If I have vexed you, it was only
because I was so selfishly anxious to keep you more with me--to be
more certain that you are all my own!"
I escaped from this scene with some difficulty. I should be doing
my own heart, blind and wilful as it was, a very gross injustice,
if I did not confess that the sincere and natural deportment of
Julia had rendered me largely doubtful of the good sense or the
good feeling of the course I was pursuing. But the effects of it
were temporary only. The very feeling, thus forced upon me, that I
was, and had been, doing wrong, was a humiliating one; and calculated
rather to sustain my self-esteem, even though it lessened the
amount of justification which my jealousy may have supposed itself
possessed of. The disease had been growing too long within my
bosom. It had taken too deep root--had spread its fibres into a
region too rank and stimulating not to baffle any ordinary diligence
on the part of the extirpator, even if he had been industrious and
sincere. It had been growing with my growth, had shared my strength
from the beginning, was a part of my very existence! Still, though
not with that hearty fondness which her feeling demanded, I returned
her caresses, folded her to my bosom, kissed the tears from her
cheek, and half promised myself, though I said nothing of this to
her, that I would attend her to the picture exhibition.
But I did not. Half an hour before the appointed time I resolved to
do so; but the evil spirit grew uppermost in that brief interval,
and suggested to me a course more in unison with its previous counsellings.
Under this mean prompting I prepared to go to the gallery, but not
till my wife had already gone there under Edgerton's escort. The
object of this afterthought was to surprise them there--to enter at
the unguarded moment, and read the language of their mutual eyes,
when they least apprehended such scrutiny.
Pitiful as was this design, I yet pursued it. I entered the picture
room at a moment which was sufficiently auspicious for my objects.
They were the only occupants of the apartment. I learned this
fact before I ascended the stairs from the keeper of the gallery,
who sat in a lower room. The stairs were carpeted. I wore light
thin pumps, which were noiseless. I may add, as a singular moral
contradiction, that I not only did not move stealthily, but that
I set down my feet with greater emphasis than was usual with me,
as if I sought, in this way to lessen somewhat the meanness of my
proceeding. My approach, however, was entirely unheard; and I stood
for a few seconds in the doorway, gazing upon the parties without
making them conscious of my intrusion.
Julia was sitting, gazing, with hand lifted above her eyes, at a
Murillo--a ragged Spanish boy, true equally to the life and to the
peculiar characteristics of that artist--dark ground-work, keen,
arch expression, great vivacity, with an air of pregnant humor which
speaks of more than is shown, and makes you fancy that other pictures
are to follow in which the same boy must appear in different phases
of feeling and of fortune.
I need not say that the pictures, however, called for a momentary
glance only from me. My glances were following my thoughts, and
they were piercing through the only possible avenues, the cheeks,
the lips, the tell-tale eyes, deep down into the very hearts of
the suspected parties. They were so placed that, standing at the
door, and half hidden from sight by a screen, I could see with
tolerable distinctness the true expsion in each countenance, though
I saw but half the face. Julia was gazing upon the pictures, but
Edgerton was gazing upon her! He had no eyes for any other object;
and I fancied, from the abstracted and almost vacant expression
of his looks, that I without startling him from his dream. In his
features, speaking, even in their obliviousness of all without, was
one sole, absorbing sentiment of devotion. His eyes were riveted
with a strenuous sort of gaze upon her, and her only. He stood
partly on one side, but still behind her, so that, without changing
her position, she could scarcely have beheld his countenance.
I looked in vain, in the brief space of time which I employed in
surveying them, but she never once turned her head; nor did he once
withdraw his glance from her neck and cheek, a part only of which
could have been visible to him where he stood. Her features,
meanwhile, were subdued and placid. There was nothing which could
make me dissatisfied with her, had I not been predisposed to this
dissatisfaction; and when the tones of my voice were heard, she
started up to meet me with a sudden flash of pleasure in her eyes
which illuminated her whole countenance.
"Ah I you are come, then. I am so glad!"
She little knew why I had come. I blushed involuntarily with the
conviction of the base motive which had brought me. She immediately
grasped my arm, drew me to the contemplation of those pictures
which had more particularly pleased herself, absolutely seeming to
forget that there was a third person in the room. William Edgerton
turned away and busied himself, for the first time no doubt, in
the examination of a landscape on the opposite wall. I followed
his movement with my glance for a single instant, but his face was
THE OLD GOOSE FINDS A YOUNG GANDER.
We will suppose some months to have elapsed in this manner--months,
to me, of prolonged torture and suspicion. Circumstanees, like
petty billows of the sea, kept chafing upon the low places of my
heart, keeping alive the feverish irritation which had already done
so much toward destroying my peace, and overthrowing the guardian
outposts of my pride and honor. How long the strife was to bo
continued before the ocean-torrents should be let in--before the
wild passions should quite overwhelm my reason--was a subject of
doubt, but not the less a subject of present and of exceeding fear.
In these matters, I need not say that there was substantially very
little change in the character of events that marked the progress
of my domestic life. William Edgerton still continued the course
which he had so unwittingly begun. He still sought every opportunity
to see my wife, and, if possible, to see her alone. He avoided me
as much as possible; seldom came to the office; absolutely gave
up his business altogether; and, when we met, though his words and
manner were solicitously kind, there was a close restraint upon the
latter, a hesitancy about the former, a timid apprehensiveness in
his eye, and a generally-shown reluctance to approach me, which I
could not but see, and could not but perceive, at the same time,
that he endeavored with ineffectual effort to conceal. He was
evidently conscious that he was doing wrong. It was equally clear
to me that he lacked the manly courage to do right. What was all
this to end in? The question became momently more and more serious.
Suppose that he possessed no sort of influence over my wife! Even
suppose his advances to stop where they were at present--his course
already, so far, was a humiliating indignity, allowing that it
became perceptible to the eyes of others. That revelation once
made, there could be no more proper forbearance on the part of the
husband. The customs of our society, the tone of public opinion--nay,
outraged humanity itself--demanded then the interposition of the
avenger. And that revelation was at hand.
Meanwhile, the keenest eyes of suspicion could behold nothing in
the conduct of Julia which was not entirely unexceptionable. If
William Edgerton was still persevering in his pursuit, Julia seemed
insensible to his endeavors. Of course, they met frequently when
it was not in my power to see them. It was my error to suppose that
they met more frequently still--that he saw her invariably in his
morning visits to the studio, which was not often the case--and,
when they did meet, that she derived quite as much satisfaction
from the interview as himself. Of their meetings, except at night,
when I was engaged in my miserable watch upon them, I could say
nothing. Failing to note anything evil at such periods, my jealous
imagination jumped to the conclusion that this was because my
espionage was suspected, and that their interviews at other periods
were distinguished by less prudence and reserve. And yet, could
I have reasoned rightly at this period, I must have seen that,
if such were the case, there would have been no such display of
EMPRESSMENT as William Edgerton made at these evening visits. Did
he expend his ardor in the day, did he apprehend my scrutiny at
night, he would surely have suppressed the eagerness of his
glance--the profound, all-forgetting adoration which marked his
whole air, gaze, and manner. Nor should I have been so wretchedly
blind to what was the obvious feeling of discontent and disquiet
in her bosom. Never did evenings seem to pass with more downright
dullness to any one party in the world. If Edgerton spoke to her,
which he did not frequently, his address was marked by a trepidation
and hesitancy akin to fear--a manner which certainly indicated
anything but a foregone conclusion between them; while her answers,
on the other hand, were singularly cold, merely replying, and
calculated invariably to discourage everything like a protracted
conversation. What was said by Edgerton was sufficiently harmless--nor
harmless merely. It was most commonly mere ordinary commonplace,
the feeble effort of one who feels the necessity of speech, yet
dares not speak the voluminous passions which alone could furnish
him with energetic and manly utterance. Had the scales not been
abundantly thick and callous above my eyes, how easily might these
clandestine scrutinies have brought me back equally to happiness
and my senses! But though I thus beheld the parties, and saw the
truth as I now relate it, there was always then some little trifling
circumstance that would rise up, congenial to suspicion, and
cloud my conclusions, and throw me back upon old doubts and cruel
jealousies. Edgerton's tone may, at moments, have been more
faltering and more tender than usual; Julia's glance might sometimes
encounter his, and then they both might seem to fall, in mutual
confusion, to the ground. Perhaps she sung some little ditty at
his instance--some ditty that she had often sung for me. Nay, at
his departure, she might have attended him to the entrance, and
he may have taken her hand and retained his grasp upon it rather
longer than was absolutely necessary for his farewell. How was
I to know the degree of pressure which he gave to the hand within
his own? That single grasp, not unfrequently, undid all the
better impressions of a whole evening consumed in these unworthy
scrutinies. I will not seek further to account for or to defend
this unhappy weakness. Has not the great poet of humanity said--
"Trifles, light as air,
Are, to the jealous, confirmations strong
As proofs Of Holy Writ"?
Medical men tell us of a predisposing condition of the system for
the inception of epidemic. It needs, after this, but the smallest
atmospheric changes, and the contagion spreads, and blackens, and
taints the entire body of society, even unto death. The history
of the moral constitution is not unanalogous to this. The disease,
the damning doubt, once in the mind, and the rest is easy. It may
sleep and be silent for a season, for years, unprovoked by stimulating
circumstances; but let the moral atmosphere once receive its color
from the suddenly-passing cloud, and the dark spot dilates within
the heart, grows active, and rapidly sends its poisonous and poisoning
tendrils through all the avenues of mind. Its bitter secretions in
my soul affected all the objects of my sight, even as the jaundiced
man lives only in a saffron element. Perhaps no course of conduct
on the part of my wife could have seemed to me entirely innocent.
Certainly none could have been entirely satisfactory, or have seemed
entirely proper. Even her words, when she spoke to me alone, were
of a kind to feed my prevailing passion. Yet, regarded under just
moods, they should have been the most conclusive, not simply of her
innocence, but of the devotedness of her heart to the requisitions
of her duty. Her love and her sense of right seemed harmoniously
to keep together. Gentlest reproaches eluded me for leaving her,
when she sought for none but myself. Sweetest endearments encountered
my return, and fondest entreaties would have delayed the hour of
my departure. Her earnestness, when she implored me not to leave
her so frequently at night, almost reached intensity, and had
a meaning, equally expressive of her delicacy and apprehensions,
which I was unhappily too slow to understand.
Six months had probably elapsed from the time of Mr. Clifford's
death, when, returning from my office one day, who should I encounter
in my wife's company but her mother? Of this good lady I had been
permitted to see but precious little since my marriage. Not that
she had kept aloof from our dwelling entirely. Julia had always
conceived it a duty to seek her mother at frequent periods without
regarding the ill treament which she received; and the latter,
becoming gradually reconciled to what she could no longer prevent,
had at length so far put on the garments of Christian charity as
to make a visit to her daughter in return. Of course, though I did
not encourage it, I objected nothing to this renewed intercourse;
which continued to increase until, as in the present instance, I
sometimes encountered this good lady on my return from my office.
On these occasions I treated her with becoming respect, though
without familiarity. I inquired after her health, expressed myself
pleased to see her, and joined my wife in requesting her to stay
to dinner. Until now, she usually declined to do so; and her manner
to myself hitherto was that of a spoiled child indulging in his
sulks. But, this day, to my great consternation, she was all smies
and good humor.
A change so sudden portended danger. I looked to my wife, whose
grave countenance afforded me no explanation. I looked to the lady
herself, my own countenance no doubt sufficiently expressive of the
wonder which I felt, but there was little to be read in that quarter
which could give me any clue to the mystery. Yet she chattered like
a magpie; her conversation running on certain styles of dress,
various purchases of silks, and satins, and other stuffs, which
she had been buying--a budget of which, I afterward discovered,
she had brought with her, in order to display to her daughter.
Then she spoke of her teeth, newly filed and plugged, and grinned
with frequent effort, that their improved condition might be made
apparent. Her chatter was peculiarly that of a flippant and conceited
girl-child of sixteen, whose head has been turned by premature
bringing out, and the tuition of some vain, silly, wriggling mother.
I could see, by my wife's looks, that there was a cause for all
this, and waited, with considerable apprehension, for the moment
when we should be alone, in order to receive from her an explanation.
But little of Mrs. Clifford's conversation was addressed to me,
though that little was evidently meant to be particularly civil.
But, a little before she took her departure, which was soon after
dinner, she asked me with some abruptness, though with a considerable
smirk of meaning in her face, if I "knew a Mr. Patrick Delaney."
I frankly admitted that I had not this pleasure; and with a still
more significant smirk, ending in a very affected simper, meant
to be very pleasant, she informed me, as she took her leave, that
Julia would make me wiser. I looked to Julia when she was gone,
and, with some chagrin, and with few words, she unravelled the
difficulty. Her mother--the old fool--was about to be married, and
to a Mr. Patrick Delaney, an Irish gentleman, fresh from the green
island, who had only been some eighteen months in America.
"You seem annoyed by this affair, Julia; but how does it affect
"Oh, such a match can not turn out well. This Mr. Delaney is a young
man, only twenty-five, and what can he see in mother to induce him
to marry her? It can only be for the little pittance of property
which she possesses."
I shrugged my shoulders while replying:--
"There must be some consideration in every marriage-contract."
"Ah! but, Edward, what sort of a man can it be to whom money is
the consideration for marrying a woman old enough to be his mother?"
"And so little money, too. But, Julia, perhaps he marries her as a
mother. He is a modest youth, who knows his juvenility, and seeks
becoming guardianship. But the thing does not concern us at all."
"She is my mother, Edward."
"True; but still I do not see that the matter should concern us.
You do not apprehend that Mr. Patrick Delaney will seek to exercise
the authority of a father over either of us?"
"No! but I fear she will repent."
"Why should that be a subject of fear which should be a subject of
gratulation? For my part, I hope she may repent. We are told she
can not be saved else."
Julia was silent. I continued:--
"But what brings her here, and makes her so suddenly affable with
me? That is certainly a matter which looks threatening. Does she
explain this to you, Julia?"
"Not otherwise than by declaring she is sorry for former differences."
"Ah, indeed! but her sorrow comes too late, and I very much suspect
has some motive. What more? the shaft is not yet shot."
"You guess rightly; she invites us to the wedding, and insists
that we must come, as a proof that we harbor no malice."
"Is that all?"
"All, I believe."
"She is more considerate than I expected. Well, you promised her?"
"No; I told her I could say nothing without consulting you."
"And would you wish to go, Julia?"
"Oh, surely, dear husband."
"We will both go, then."
A week afterward the affair took place, and we were among the
THE HEART-FIEND FINDS AN ECHO FROM THE FIEND WITHOUT.
And a spectacle it was! Mrs. Clifford, about to become Mrs.
Delaney, was determined that the change in her situation should
be distinguished by becoming eclat. Always a silly woman, fond of
extravagance and show, she prepared to celebrate an occasion of the
greatest folly in a style of greater extravagance than ever. She
accordingly collected as many of her former numerous acquaintances
as were still willing to appear within a circle in which wealth
was no longer to be found. Her house was small, but, as has been
elsewhere stated in this narrative, she had made it smaller by
stuffing it with the massive and costly furniture which had been
less out of place in her former splendid mansion, and had there much
better accorded with her fortunes. She now still further stuffed
it with her guests. Of course, many of those present, came only to
make merry at her expense. Her husband was almost entirely unknown
to any of them; and it was enough to settle his pretensions in
every mind, that, in the vigor of his youth, a really fine-looking,
well-made person of twenty-five, he was about to connect himself,
in marriage, with a haggard old woman of fifty, whose personal
charms, never very great, were nearly all gone; and whose mind and
manners, the grace of youth being no more, were so very deficient
in all those qualities which might commend one to a husband. So
far as externals went, Mr. Delaney was a very proper man. He behaved
with sufficient decorum, and unexpected modesty; and went through
the ordeal as composedly as if the occurrence had been frequently
before familiar; as indeed we shall discover in the sequel, was
certainly the case. But this does not concern us now.
Three rooms were thrown open to the company. We had refreshments
in abundance and great variety, and at a certain hour, we were
astounded by the clamor of tamborine and fiddle giving due notice
to the dancers. Among my few social accomplishments, this of
dancing had never been included. Naturally, I should, perhaps, be
considered an awkward man. I was conscious of this awkwardness at
all times when not excited by action or some earnest motive. I was
incapable of that graceful loitering, that flexibleness of mind
and body, which excludes the idea of intensity, of every sort,
and which constitutes one of the great essentials for success in
a ball-room. It was in this very respect that my FRIEND, William
Edgerton, may be said to have excelled most young men of our acquaintance.
He was what, in common speech, is called an accomplished man. Of
very graceful person, without much earnestness of character, he
had acquired a certain fastidiousness of taste on the subjects of
costume and manners, which, without Brummellizing, he yet carried
to an extent which betrayed a considerable degree of mental feebleness.
This somewhat assimilated him to the fashionable dandy. He walked
with an air equally graceful, noble, and unaffected. He was never
on stilts, yet he was always EN REGLE. He had as little maurias,
honte as maurais ton. In short, whatever might have been his
deficiencies, he was confessedly a very neat specimen of the fine
gentleman in its most commendable social sense.
William Edgerton was among the guests of Mrs. Clifford. There
had been no previous intimacy between the Edgerton and Clifford
families, yet he had been specially invited. Mrs. C. could have
had but a single motive for inviting him--so I thought--that of
making her evening a jam. She had just that ambition of the lady
of small fashion, who regards the number rather than the quality of
her guests, and would prefer a saloon full of Esquimaux or Kanzas,
and would partake of their sea-blubber, rather than lose the triumph
of making more noise than her rival neighbors, the Sprigginses or
William Edgerton did not seek me; but, when I left the side of my
wife to pay my respects to some ladies at the opposite end of the
room, he approached her. A keen pang that rendered me unconscious
of everything I was saying--nay, even of the persons to whom I was
addressing myself--shot through my heart, as I beheld him crossing
the floor to the place that I had left. Involuntarily, the gracefulness
of his person and carriage provoked in my mind a contrast most
unfavorable to me, between him and myself. It was no satisfaction
to me at that time to reflect that I was less graceful only because
I was more earnest, more sincere. This is usually the case, and
is reasonably accounted for. Intensity and great earnestness of
character, are wholly inconsistent with a nice attention to forms,
carriage, demeanor. But what does a lady care for such distinction?
Does she even suspect it? Not often. If she could only fancy for
a moment that the well-made but awkward man who traverses the room
before her, carried in his breast a soul of such ardency and volume
that it subjected his very motion arbitrarily to its own excitements,
its own convulsions; that the very awkwardness which offended her
was the result of the most deep and passionate feelings--feelings
which, like the buried flame in the mountain, are continually
boiling up for utterance--convulsing the prison-house which retained
them--shaking the solid earth with their pent throes, that will
not always be pent! Ah! these things do not move ladies' fancies.
There are very few endowed with that thoughtful pride which disdains
surfaces. Julia Clifford was one of these few! But I little knew
The approach of William Edgerton to my wife was a signal for my
torture all that evening. From that moment my mind was wandering.
I knew little what I said, or looked, or did. My chat with those
around me became, on a sudden, bald and disjointed; and when I
beheld the pair, both nobly formed--he tall, graceful, manly--she,
beautiful and bending as a lily--a purity beaming, amid all their
brightness, from her eyes--a purity which, I had taught myself to
believe, was no longer in her heart--when I beheld them advance into
the floor, conspicuous over all the rest, in most eyes, as they
certainly were in mine--I can not describe--you may conjecture--the
cold, fainting sickness which overcame my soul. I could have lain
myself down upon the lone, midnight rocks, and surrendered myself
to solitude and storm for ever.
They entered the stately measures of the Spanish dance But the
grace of movement which won the murmuring applause of all around
me, only increased the agony of my afflictions. I saw their linked
arms--the compliant, willing movements of their mutual forms--and
dark were the images of guilt and hateful suspicion which entered
my brain and grew to vivid forms, in action before me. I fancied the
fierce, passionate yearnings in the heart of Edgerton; I trembled
when I conjectured what fancies filled the heart of Julia. I can
not linger over the torturing influence of those moments--moments
which seemed ages! Enough that I was maddened with the delirium,
now almost as its height, which had been for months preying upon
my brain like some corroding serpent.
The dance closed. Edgerton conducted her to a seat and placed
himself beside her. I kept aloof. I watched them from a distance;
and in sustaining this watch, I was compelled to recall my senses
with a stern degree of resolution which should save my feelings
from the detection of those inquisitive glances which I fancied
were all around me. If I was weakest among men, in the disease which
destroyed my peace, Heaven knows I was among the strongest of men
in concealing its expression at the very moment when every pulsation
of my heart was an especial agony. I affected indifference, threw
myself into the midst of a group of such people as talk of their
neighbor's bonnets or breeches, the rise of stocks, or the fall of
rain; and how Mrs. Jenkins has set up her carriage, and Mr. Higgins
has been compelled to set down, and to sell out his. Interesting
details, perhaps, without which the nine in ten might as well be
tongueless or tongue-tied for ever. This stuff I had to hear, and
requite in like currency, while my brain was boiling, and dim,
but terrible images of strife, and storm, and agony, were rushing
through it with howling and hisses. There I sat, thus seemingly
engaged, but with an eye ever glancing covertly to the two, who,
at that moment, absorbed every thought of my mind, every feeling
of my heart, and filled them both with the bitterest commotion.
The glances of their mutual eyes, the expression of lip and check,
I watched with the keenest analysis of suspicion. In Julia, I saw
sweetness mixed with a delicate reserve. She seemed to speak but
little. Her eyes wandered from her companion--frequently to where
I sat---but I gave myself due credit, at such moments, for the
ability with which I conducted my own espionage. My inference--equally
unjust and unnatural--that her timid glances to my-self denoted in
her bosom a consciousness of wrong--seemed to me the most natural
and inevitable inference. And when I noted the ardency of Edgerton's
gaze, his close, unrelaxing attentions, the seeming forgetfulness
of all around which he manifested, I hurried to the conclusion
that his words were of a character to suit his looks, and betray
in more emphatic utterance, the passion which they also betrayed.
The signal, after a short respite, devoted to fruits, ices, &C.,
was made for the dancers, and William Edgerton rose. I noted his bow
to my wife, saw that he spoke, and necessarily concluded, that he
again solicited her to dance. Her lips moved--she bowed slightly--and
he again took his seat beside her. I inferred from this that she
declined to dance a second time. She was certainly more prudent
than himself. I assigned to prudence--to policy--on her part, what
might well have been placed to a nobler motive. I went further.
"She will not dance with him," said the busy fiend at my shoulder,
"for the very reason that she prefers a quiet seat beside him. In
the dance they mingle with others; they can not speak with so much
ease and safety. Now she has him all to herself."
I dashed away, forgetful, gloomily, from the knot by which I
had been encompassed. I passed into the adjoining room, which was
connected by folding doors, with that I left. The crowd necessarily
grouped itself around the dancers, and (sic) a window-jamb, I stood
absolutely forgetting where I was alone among the many--with my
eye stretching over the heads of the flying masses, to the remote
spot where my wife still sat with Edgerton. I was aroused from my
hateful dream by a slight touch upon my arm. I started with a painful
sense of my own weakness--with a natural dread that the secret misery
under which I labored was no longer a secret. I writhed under the
conviction that the cold, the sneering, and the worthless, were
making merry with my afflictions. I met the gaze of the bride--the
mistress of ceremonies--my wife's mother Mrs. Delaney, late Clifford.
I shuddered as I beheld her glance. I could not mistake the volume
of meaning in her smile--that wretched smile of her thin, withered
lips, brimful of malignant cunning, which said emphatically as such
smile could say:--
"I see you on the rack; I know that you are writhing; and I enjoy
I started, as if to leave her, with a look of fell defiance,
roused, ready to burst forth into utterance, upon my own face. But
she gently detained my arm.
"You are troubled."
"Ah! but you are. Stop awhile. You will feel better."
"Thank you; but I feel very well."
"No, no, you do not. You can not deceive me. I know where the shoe
pinches; but what did you expect? Were you simple enough to imagine
that a woman would be true to her husband, who was false to her
"Fiend!" I muttered in her ear.
"Ha! ha! ha!" was the unmeasured response of the bel dame, loud
enough for the whole house to hear. I darted from her grasp, which
would have detained me still, made my way--how I know not--out of
the house, and found myself almost gasping for breath, in the open
air of the street.
She, at least, had been sagacious enough to find out my secret
THE fiendish suggestion of the mother, against the purity of her own
child, almost divested me, for the moment, of my own rancor--almost
deprived me of my suspicions! Could anything have been more
thoroughly horrible and atrocious! It certainly betrayed how deep
was the malignant hatred which she had ever borne to myself, and
of which her daughter was now required to bear a portion. What a
volume of human depravity was opened on my sight, by that single
utterance of this wretched mother. Guilt and sin! ye are, indeed,
the masters everywhere! How universal is your dominion! How
ye rage--how ye riot among souls, and minds, and fancies--never
utterly overthrown anywhere--busy always--everywhere--sovereign in
how many hapless regions of the heart! Who is pure among men? Who
can be sure of himself for a day--an hour? Precious few! None,
certainly, who do not distrust their own strength with a humility
only to be won from prayer--prayer coupled with moderate desires,
and the presence of a constant thought, which teaches that time is
a mere agent of eternity, and he who works for the one only, will
not even be secure of peace during the period for which he works.
Truly, he who lives not for the future is the very last who may
reasonably hope to enjoy the blessings of the present.
But this was not the season, nor was mine the mood, for moral
reflections of any sort. My secret was known! That was everything.
When the conduct of William Edgerton had become such, as to awaken
the notice of third persons, I was justified in exacting from him
the heavy responsibility he had incurred. The vague, indistinct
conviction had long floated before my mind, that I would
be required to take his life. The period which was to render this
task necessary, was that which had now arrived--when it had been
seen by others--not interested like myself--that he had passed
the bounds of propriety. Of course, I was arguing in a circle,
from which I should have found it impossible to extricate myself.
Thousands might have seen that I was jealous, without being able to
see any just cause for my jealousy. It was, however, quite enough
for a proud spirit like my own, that its secret fear should be
revealed. It did not much matter, after this, whether my suspicions
were, or were not causeless. It was enough that they were known--that
busy, meddling women, and men about town, should distinguish me with
a finger--should say: "His wife is very pretty and--very charitable!"
"Ha! ha! ha!"
I, too, could laugh, under such musings, and in the spirit of Mrs.
"Ha! ha! ha!" The street echoed, beneath the windows of that reputable
lady, with my involuntary, fiendish laughter. I stood there--and
the music rang through my senses like the cries of exulting demons.
She was there--of my wife the thoughts ran thus, she was there,
whirling, perchance, in the mazes of that voluptuous dance, then
recently become fashionable among us; his arm about her waist--her
form inclining to his, as if seeking support and succor--and both
of them forgetting all things but the mutual intoxication which
swallowed up all things and thoughts in the absorbing sensuality
of one! Or, perhaps, still apart, they sat to themselves--her
ear fastened upon his lips--her consciousness given wholly to his
discourse; and that discourse!--"Ha! ha! ha!"--I laughed again,
as I hurried away from the spot, with gigantic strides, taking the
direction which led to my own lonely dwelling.
All was stillness there, but there was no peace. I entered the
piazza, threw myself into a chair, and gazed out upon the leaves and
waters, trying to collect my scattered thoughts--trying to subdue
my blood, that my thoughts might meet in deliberation upon
the desolating prospect which was then spread before me. But I
struggled for this in vain. But one thought was mine at that hour.
But one fearful image gathered in completeness and strength before
my mind; and that was one calculated to banish all others and baffle
all their deliberations.
"The blood of William Edgerton must be shed, and by these hands!
My disgrace is known! There is no help for it!"
I had repeatedly resolved this gloomy conviction in my mind. It
was now to receive shape and substance. It was a thing no longer
to be thought upon. It was a thing to be done! This necessity
staggered me. The kindness of the father, the kindness and long
true friendship of the son himself, how could I requite this after
such a fashion? How penetrate the peaceful home of that fond family
with an arm of such violence, as to tend their proudest offspring
from the parental tree, and, perhaps, in destroying it, blight
for ever the venerable trunk upon which it was borne? Let it not
be fancied that these feelings were without effect. Let it not be
supposed that I weakly, willingly, yielded to the conviction of
this cruel necessity--that I determined, without a struggle, upon
this seemingly necessary measure! Verily, I then, in that dreary
house and hour, wrestled like a strong man with the unbidden
prompter, who counselled me to the deed of blood. I wrestled with
him as the desperate man, knowing the supernatural strength of
his enemy, wrestles with a demon. The strife was a fearful one. I
could not suppress my groans of agony; and the cold sweat gathered
and stood upon my forehead in thick, clammy drops.
But the struggle was vain to effect my resolution. It had been
too long present as a distinct image before my imagination. I had
already become too familiar with its aspects. It had the look of
a fate to my mind. I fancied myself--as probably most men will do,
whose self-esteem is very active--the victim of a fate. My whole
life tended to confirm this notion. I was chosen out from the
beginning for a certain work, in which, my-self a victim, I was
to carry out the designs of destiny in the ease of other victims.
I had struggled long not to believe this--not to do this work.
But the struggle was at last at an end. I was convinced, finally.
I was ready for the work. I was resigned to my fate. But oh!
how grateful once had one of these victims seemed in my eyes! How
beautiful, and still how dear was the other!
I rose from my seat and struggle, with the air of one strengthened
by thoughtful resolution for any act. Prayer could not have
strengthened me more. I felt a singular degree of strength. I can
well understand that of fanaticism from my own feelings. Nothing,
in the shape of danger, could have deterred me from the deed. I
positively had no remaining fear. But, how was it to be done? With
this inquiry in my mind, still unanswered, I took a light, went
into my study, and drew from my escritoir the few small weapons
which I had in possession. These are soon named. One was a neat
little dirk--broad in blade, double-edged, short--sufficient for
all my purposes. I examined my pistols and loaded them--a small,
neat pair, the present of Edgerton himself. This fact determined me
not to use them. I restored them to the escritoir; put the dagger
between the folds of my vest, and prepared to leave the house.
At this moment a heavy knocking was heard at the gate I resumed my
seat in the piazza until the servant should report the nature of
the interruption. He was followed in by my friend Kingsley.
"I am glad to find you home," said he abruptly, grasping my hand;
"home, and not a-bed. The hour is late, I know, but the devil never
keeps ordinary hours, and men, driven by his satanic majesty, have
some excuse for following his example."
This exordium promised something unusual. The manner of Kingsley
betrayed excitement. Nay, it was soon evident he had been taking
a superfluous quantity of wine. His voice was thick, and he spoke
excessively loud in order to be intelligible. There was something
like a defying desperation in his tones, in the dare-devil swagger
of his movement, and the almost iron pressure of his grasp upon my
fingers. I subdued my own passions--nay, they were subdued--singularly
so, by the resolution I had made before his entrance, and was able,
therefore, to appear calm and smooth as summer water in his eyes.
"What's the matter?" I asked. "You seem excited. No evil, I trust?"
"Evil, indeed! Not much; but even if it were, I tell you Ned Clifford,
I am just now in the mood to say, 'Evil be thou my good!' I have
reason to say it; and, by the powers, it will not be said only. I
will make evil my good after a fashion of my own; but how much good
or now little evil, will be yet another question."
I was interested, in spite of myself, by the vehemence and unusual
seriousness of my companion's manner. It somewhat harmonized
with my own temper, and in a measure beguiled me into a momentary
heedlessness of my particular griefs. I urged him to a more frank
statement of the things that troubled him.
"Can I serve you in anything?" was the inquiry which concluded my
assurance that I was sufficiently his friend to sympathize with
him in his afflictions.
"You can serve me, and I need your service. You can serve me in
two respects; nay, if you do not, I know not which side to turn
for service. In the first place, then, I wish a hundred dollars,
and I wish it to-night. In the next place, I wish a companion--a
man not easily scared, who will follow where I lead him, and take
part in a 'knock down and drag out,' if it should become necessary,
without asking the why and the wherefore."
"You shall have the money, Kingsley."
"Stay! Perhaps I may never pay it you again."
"I shall regret that, for I can ill afford to lose any such sum;
but, even to know that would not prevent me from lending you in
your need. It is enough that you are in want. You tell me you are."
"I am; but my wants are not such as a pure moralist, however strong
might be his friendship, would be disposed to gratify. I shall
stake that money on the roll of the dice."
"Impossible! You do not game!"
"True as a gospel! Hark you, Clifford, and save us the homily. I
am a ruined man--ruined by the d---d dice and the deceptive cards.
I shall pay you back the hundred dollars, but I shall have precious
little after that."
"But, surely, I was not misinformed. You were rich a few years
"A few months! But the case is the same. I am poor now. My riches
had wings. I am reduced to my tail-feathers; but I will flourish
with these to the last. I have fallen among thieves. They have
clipped my plumage--close! close! They have stripped me of everything,
but some small matters which, when sold, will just suffice to get
me horse or halter. Some dirty acres in Alabama, are all I absolutely
have remaining of any real value. But there is one thing that I
may have, if I stake boldly for it."
"You will only lose again. The hope of a gamester rises, in due
degree, with the increasing lightness of his pockets."
"Do not mistake me. I hope nothing from your hundred dollars;
indeed, fifty will answer. I propose to employ it only as a pretext.
I expect to lose it, and lose it this very night. But it will give
me an opportunity to ascertain what I have suspected--too late,
indeed, to save myself--that I have been the victim of false dice
and figured cards. You say you will let me have the money--will
you go with me--Will you see me through?"
He extended his hand as he spoke, I grasped it. He shook it with a
hearty feeling, while a bright smile almost, dissipated the cloud
from his face.
"You are a man, Clifford; and now, would you believe it, our
excellent, immaculate young friend, Mr. William Edgerton, refused
me this money."
"Strange! Edgerton is not selfish--he is not mean! From THAT vice
he is certainly free."
"By G-d, I don't know that! He refused me the money; refused to
go with me. I saw him at eight o'clock, at his own room, where he
was rigging himself out for some d---d tea-drinking; told him my
straits, my losses, my object and all; and what was his plea, think
you? Why, he disapproved of gambling; couldn't think of lending
me a sixpence for any such purpose; and, as for going into such a
suspected quarter as a gambling-house--wouldn't do it for the world!
Was there ever such a puritan--such a humbug!"
I did William Edgerton only justice in my reply;--
"I've no doubt, Kingsley, that such are his real principles. He
would have lent you thrice the money, freely, had not your object
"But what a devil sort of despotism is that! Can't a friend get
drunk, or game, or swagger? may he not depart from the highway,
and sidle into an alley, without souring his friend's temper and
making him stingy? I don't understand it at all. I'm glad, at least,
to find you are of another sort of stuff."
"Nay, Kingsley, I will lend you the money--go with you, as you
desire; but, understand me, I do not, no more than Edgerton, approve
of this gambling."
"Tut, tut! I don't want you to preach, though I could hear you with
a devilish sight better temper than him. There's a hundred things
that one's friend don't approve of, but shall he desert him for
all that? Leave him to be plucked, and kicked, and abandoned; and,
moralizing, with a grin over his fain, say, 'I told you. so!' No!
no! Give me the fellow that'll stand by me--keep me out of evil,
if he can, but stand by me, nevertheless, at all events; and not
suffer me to be swallowed up at the last moment, when an outstretched
finger might save!"
"But, am I to think, Kingsley, that my help can do this?"
"No! not exactly--it may--but if it does not, what then? I shall
lose the money, but you shan't. But, truth to speak, Clifford, I do
not propose to myself the recovery of what is lost. I know I have
been the prey of sharpers. That is to say, I have every reason to
believe so, and I have had a hint to that effect. I have a spice
of the devil in me, accordingly--a mocking, mortifying devil, that
jeers me with my d---d simplicity; and I propose to go and let the
swindlers know, in a way as little circuitous as possible, that I
am not blind to the fact that they have made an ass of me. There
will be some satisfaction, in that. I will write myself down an
ass, for their benefit, only to enjoy the satisfaction of kicking
a little like one. I invite you on a kicking expedition."
I felt for my dagger in my bosom, as I answered: "Very good! Have
"Hickory! You see! a moderate axe-handle, that'll make its sentiments
understood You are warned; you see what you are to expect. I will
not take you in. Are you ready for a scratch ?"
"Allons!" I replied indifferently. The truth is, my bosom was full
of a recklessness of a far more sweeping character than his own.
I was in the mood for strife. It promised only the more thoroughly
to prepare me for the darker trial which was before me, and which
my secret soul was meditating all the while with an intense and
gloomy tenacity of purpose.
MORALS OF ENTERPRISE.
I got him the money he required; and we were about to set forth,
when he exclaimed abruptly:--
"Put money in thy own purse, Clifford. It may be necessary to practise
a little ruse de guerre. In playing my game, it may be important
that you should deem to play one also. You have no scruples to
fling the dice or flirt the cards for the nonce."
"None! But I should like to know your plans. Tell me, in the first
place, your precise object."
"Simply to detect certain knaves, and save certain fools. The
knaves have ruined me, and I make no lamentations; but there are
others in their clutches still, quite as ignorant as myself, who
may be saved before they are stripped entirely. The object is not
a bad one; for the rest, trust to me. I mean no harm; a little
mischief only; and, at most, a tweak of one proboscis or more.
There's risk, of a certainty, as there is in sucking an egg; but
you are a man! Not like that d--d milksop, who gives up his friend
as soon as he gets poor, and proffers him a sermon by way of telling
him--precious information, truly--that he's in a fair way to the
devil. The toss of a copper for such friendship."
The humor of Kingsley tallied somewhat with my own. It had in it
a spice of recklessness which pleased me. Perhaps, too, it tended
somewhat to relieve and qualify the intenseness of that excitement
in my brain, which sometimes rose to such a pitch as led me
to apprehend madness. That I was a monomaniac has been admitted,
perhaps not a moment too soon for the author's candor. The sagacity
of the reader made him independent of the admission.
"Your beggar," said he, somewhat abruptly, "has the only true feeling
of independence. Absolutely, I never knew till now what it was to
be thoroughly indifferent to what might come to-morrow. I positively
care for nothing. I am the first prince Sans Souci. That shall
be my title when I get among the Cumanches. I will have a code of
laws and constitution to suit my particular humor, and my chief
penalties shall be inflicted upon your fellows who grunt. A sigh
shall incur a week's solitary confinement; a sour look, pillory;
and for a groan, the hypochondriac shall lose his head! My prime
minister shall be the fellow who can longest use his tongue without
losing his temper; and the man who can laugh and jest shall always
have his plate at my table. Good-humored people shall have peculiar
privileges. It shall be a certificate in one's favor, entitling
him to so many acres, that he takes the world kindly. Such a man
shall have two wives, provided he can keep them peacefully in the
same house. His daughters shall have dowries from government. The
prince of Sans Souci will himself provide for them."
I made some answer, half jest, half earnest, in a mood of mocking
bitterness, which, perhaps, more truly accorded with the temper of
both of us. He did not perceive the bitterness, however.
"You jest, but mine is not altogether jest. Half-serious glimpses
of what I tell you float certainly before my eyes. Such things
may happen yet, and the southwest is the world in which you are yet
to see many wondrous things. The time must come when Texas shall
stretch to Mexico. These miserable slaves and reptiles--mongrel
Spaniards and mongrel Indians--can not very long bedevil that great
country. It must fall into other hands. It must be ours; and who,
when that time comes, will carry into the field more thorough claims
than mine. Master of myself, fearing nothing, caring for nothing;
with a gallant steed that knows my voice, and answers with whinny
and pricked ears to my encouragement; with a rifle that can clip
a Mexican--dollar or man--at a hundred yards, and a heart that can
defy the devil over his own dish, and with but one spoon between
us--and who so likely to win his principality as myself? Look to
see it, Clifford, I shall be a prince in Mexico; and when you hear
of the prince Sans Souci be assured you know the man. Seek me then,
and ask what you will. You have CARTE BLANCHE from this moment."
"I shall certainly keep it in mind, prince."
"Do so: laugh as you please; it is only becoming that you should
laugh in the presence of Sans Souci; but do not laugh in token
of irreverence. You must not be too skeptical. It does not follow
because I am a dare-devil that I am a thoughtless one. I have been
so, perhaps, but from this moment I go to work! I shall be fettered
by fortune no longer. Thank Heaven, that is now done--gone--lost;
I am free from its incumbrance! I feel myself a prince, indeed; a
man, every inch of me. This night I devote as a fitting finish to
my old lifeless existence.
"Hear me!" he continued; "you laugh again, Clifford--very good!
Laugh on, but hear me. You shall hear more of me in time to come.
I fancy I shall be a fellow of considerable importance, not in Texas
simply, or in Mexico, but here--here in your own self-opinionated
United States. Suppose a few things, and go along with me while I
speak them. That Texas must stretch to Mexico I hold to be certain.
A very few years will do that. It needs only thirty thousand more
men from our southern and southwestern States, and the brave old
English tongue shall arouse the best echoes in the city of Montezuma!
That done, and floods of people pour in from all quarters. It
needs nothing but a feeling of security and peace--a conviction
that property will be tolerably safe, under a tolerably stable
government--in other words, an Anglo-Saxon government--to tempt
millions of discontented emigrants from all quarters of the world.
Will this result have no results of its own, think you? Will the
immense resources of Mexico and Texas, represented, as they then
will be, by a stern, pressing, performing people, have no effect
upon these states of yours? They will have the greatest; nay, they
will become essential to balance your own federal weight, and keep
you all in equilibrio. For look you, the first hubbub with Great
Britain gives you Canada, at the expense of some of your coast-towns,
a few millions of treasure, and the loss of fifty thousand men.
A bad exchange for the south; for Canada will make six ponderous
states, the policy and character of which will be New England
all over. To balance this you will have your Florida territory,
[Footnote: Florida, since admittied, but unhappily, as a single
state.] of which two feeble states may be made. Not enough for your
purposes. But the same war with England will render it necessary
that your fleet should take possession of Cuba; which, after a civil
apology to Spain for taking such a liberty with her possessions,
and, perhaps, a few million by way of hush money, you carve into two
more states, and, in this manner, try to bolster up your federal
relations. How many of her West India islands Great Britain will
be able to keep after such a war, is another problem, the solution
of which will depend upon the relative strength of fleets and
success of seamanship. These islands, which should of right be
ours, and without which we can never be sure against any maritime
power so great and so arrogant as England, once conquered by
our arms, find their natural, moral, and social affinities in the
southern states entirely; and, so far, contribute to strengthen
you in your congressional conflicts. But these are not enough, for
the simple reason that the population of states, purely agricultural,
never makes that progress which is made in this respect by a
commercial and manufacturing people. With the command of the gulf,
the possession of an independent fleet by the Texans, the political
characteristics of the states of Carolina, Georgia, Florida, Alabama,
Mississippi, Louisiana, and Arkansas, must undergo certain marked
changes, which can only be neutralized by the adoption, on the part
of these states, of a new policy corresponding with their change
of interests. How far the cultivation of cotton by Texas will lead
to its abandonment in Carolina and Georgia, is a question which the
next ten years must solve. That they will be compelled to abandon
it is inevitable, unless they can succeed in raising the article
at six cents; a probability which no cotton-planter in either of
these states will be willing to contemplate now for an instant.
Meanwhile, Texas is spreading herself right and left. She conquers
the Cumanches, subdues the native mongrel Mexicans. Her Hoestons and
Lamars are succeeded by other and abler men, under whose control
the evils of government, which followed the sway of such small
animals as the Guerreros, and the Bolivars, the Bustamentes,
and Sant' Annas, are very soon eradicated; and the country, the
noblest that God ever gave to man in the hands of men, becomes a
country!--a great and glorious country--stretching from the gulf
to the Pacific, and providing the natural balance, which, in a few
years, the southern state of this Union will inevitably need, by
which alone your great confederacy will be kept together. You see,
therefore, why I speed to Texas. Should I not, with my philosophy,
my horse and my rifle--not to speak of stout heart and hand--reasonably
aspire to the principality of Sans Souci? Laugh, if you please, but
be not irreverent. You shall have carte blanche then if you will
have a becoming faith now, on the word of a prince. I say it, It
is written--Sans Souci." [Footnote: All these speculations were
written in 1840-'41. I need not remark upon those which have since
"Altissimo, excellentissimo, serenissimo!"
"Bravissimo, you improve; you will make a courtier--but mum now
about my projects. We must suppress our dignities here. We are at
the entrance of our hell!"
We had reached the door of a low habitation in a secluded street.
The house was of wood--an ordinary hovel of two stories. A cluster
of similar fabrics surrounded it, most of which I afterward
discovered--though this fact could not be conjectured by an observer
from the street--were connected by blind alleys, inner courts, and
chambers and passages running along the ground floors. We stopped
an instant, Kingsley having his hand upon the little iron knocker,
a single black ring, that worked against an ordinary iron knob.
"Before I knock," said he, in a whisper, "before I knock, Clifford,
let me say that if you have any reluctance--"
"None! none! knock!"
"You will meet with some dirty rascals, and you must not only
meet them with seeming civility, but as if you shared in their
tastes--sought the same objects only--the getting of money--the only
object which alone is clearly comprehensible by their understanding."
"Go ahead! I will see you through."
"A word more! Get yourself in play at a different table from me.
You will find rogues enough around, ready to relieve you of your
Mexicans. Leave me to my particular enemy; you will soon see whose
shield I touch--but keep an occasional eye upon us; and all that
I ask farther at your hands, should you see us by the ears, is to
keep other fingers from taking hold of mine."
A heavy stroke of the knocker, followed by three light ones and a
second heavy stroke, produced us an answer from within. The door
unclosed, and by the light of a dim lamp, I discovered before me,
as a sort of warden, a little yellow, weather-beaten, skin-dried
Frenchman, whom I had frequently before seen at a fruit-shop in
another part of the city. He looked at me, however, without any
sign of recognition--with a blank, dull, indifferent countenance;
motioned us forward in silence, and reclosing the door, sunk into
a chair immediately behind it. I followed my companion through a
passage which was unfathomably dark, up a flight of stairs, which
led us into a sort of refreshment room. Tables were spread, with
decanters, glasses, and tumblers upon them, that appeared to be in
continual use. In a recess, stood that evil convenience of most
American establishments, whether on land or sea, a liquor bar;
its shelves crowded with bottles, all of which seemed amply full,
and ready to complete the overthrow of the victim, which the other
appliances of such a dwelling must already have actively begun.
"Here you may take in the Dutch courage, Clifford, should you lack
the native. This, I know, is not the case with you, and yet the
novelty of one's situation frequently overcomes a sensitive mind
like fear. Perhaps a julep may be of use."
"None for me. I need no farther stimulant than the mere sense of
mouvement. I take fire, like a wheel, by my own progress."
"Pretty much the same case with myself. But I have been in the
habit of drinking here, of late, and too deeply. To-night, however,
as I said before, ends all these habits. If there is honey in the
carcass, and strength from the sleep, there is wisdom from the folly,
and virtue from the vice. There is a moral as well as a physical
recoil, that most certainly follows the overcharge; and really,
speaking according to my sincere conviction I never felt myself
to be a better man, than just at this moment when I am about to do
that which my own sense of morality fails altogether to justify.
I do not know that I make you understand my feelings; I scarcely
understand them myself; but of this sort they are, and I am really
persuaded that I never felt in a better disposition to be a good
man and a working man than just at the close of a career which has
been equally profligate and idle."
I think my companion can be understood. There seems, in fact very
little mystery in his moral progress. I understood him, but did
not answer. I was not anxious to keep up the ball of conversation
which he had begun with a spirit so mixed up of contradictions--so
earnest yet so playful. A deep sense of shame unquestionably lurked
beneath his levity; and yet I make no question that he felt in
truth, and for the first time, that degree of mental hardihood of
which he boasted.
He advanced through the refreshment-room, to a door which led to an
apartment in an adjoining tenement. It was closed, but unfastened.
The sound of voices, an occasional buzz, or a slight murmur, came
to our ears from within; that of rattling dice and rolling balls
was more regular and more intelligible. Kingsley laid his hand
upon the latch, and looked round to me. His eye was kindled with
a playful sort of malicious light. A smile of pleasant bitterness
was on his lips. He said to me in a whisper:--
"Stake your money slowly. A Mexican is the lowest stake. Keep to that,
and lose as little as possible. You will soon see me sufficiently
busy, and I will endeavor to urge my labors forward, so as to make
your purgatory a short one. I shall only wait till I feel myself
cheated in the game, to begin that which I came for. See that I
have fair play in THAT, MON AMI, and I care very little about the
He lifted the latch as he concluded, and I followed him into the
The scene that opened upon us was, to me, a painfully interesting
one. It was a mere hell, without any of those attractive adjuncts
which, in a diseased state of popular refinement, such as exists in
the fashionable atmospheres of London and Paris, provides it with
decorations, and conceals its more discouraging and offensive
externals. The charms of music, lovely women, gay lights, and superb
drapery and furniture, were here entirely wanting. No other arts
beyond the single passion for hazard, which exists, I am inclined
to think, in a greater or less degree in every human breast, were
here employed to beguile the young and unsuspecting mind into
indulgence. The establishment into which I had fallen, seemed to
presuppose an acquaintance, already formed, of the gamester with his
fascinating vice. It was evidently no place to seduce the uninitiate.
The passion must have been already awakened--the guardianship
of the good angel lulled into indifference or slumber--before the
young mind could be soon reconciled to the moral atmosphere of such
The apartment was low and dimly lighted. Groups of small tables
intended for two persons were all around. In the centre of the floor
were tables of larger size, which were surrounded by the followers
of Pharo. Unoccupied tables, here and there, were sprinkled with
cards and domino; while, as if to render the characteristics of
the place complete, a vapor of smoke and a smell of beer assailed
our senses as we entered.
There were not many persons present--I conjectured, at a glance,
that there might be fifteen; but we heard occasional voices from
an inner room, and a small door opening in the rear discovered a
retreat like that we occupied, in the dim light of which I perceived
moving faces and shadows, and Kingsley informed me that there were
several rooms all similarly occupied with ours.
An examination of the persons around me, increased the unpleasant
feelings which the place had inspired. With the exception of a few,
the greater number were evidently superior to their employments.
Several of them were young men like my companion--men not yet lost
to sensibility, who looked up with some annoyance as they beheld
Kingsley accompanied by a stranger. Two or three of the inmates
were veteran gamesters. You could see THAT in their business-like
nonchalance--their rigid muscles--the manner at once demure and
familiar. They were evidently "habitues del l'enfer"--men to whom
cards and dice were as absolutely necessary now, as brandy and
tobacco to the drunkard. These men were always at play. Even the
smallest interval found them still shuffling the cards, and looking
up at every opening of the door, as if in hungering anticipation
of the prey. At such periods alone might you behold any expression
of anxiety in their faces. This disappeared entirely the moment
that they were in possession of the victim. That imperturbable
composure which distinguished them was singularly contrasted with
the fidgety eagerness and nervous rapidity by which you could
discover the latter; and I glanced over the operations of the two
parties, as they were fairly shown in several sets about the room,
with a renewed feeling of wonder how a man so truly clever and
strong, in some things, as Kingsley, should allow himself to be
drawn so deeply into such low snares; the tricks of which seemed
so apparent, and the attractions of which, in the present instance,
were obviously so inferior and low. I little knew by what inoffensive
and gradual changes the human mind, having once commenced its
downward progress, can hurry to the base; nor did I sufficiently
allow for that love of hazard itself, in games of chance, which I
have already expressed the opinion, is natural to the proper heart
of man, belongs to a rational curiosity, and arises, most probably,
from that highest property of his intellect, namely, the love of
art and intellectual ingenuity. It would be very important to know
this fact, since then, instead of the blind hostility which is
entertained for sports of this description, by certain classes of
moralists among us, we might so employ their ministry as to deprive
them of their hurtfulness and make them permanently beneficial in
the cause of good education.
Kingsley seemed to conjecture my thoughts. A smile of lofty
significance expressing a feeling of mixed scorn and humility, rose
upon his countenance--as if admitting his own feebleness, while
insisting upon his recovered strength, A sentence which he uttered
to me in a whisper, at this moment, was intended to convey some
"It was only when thrown to the earth, Clifford, that the wrestler
recovered his strength."
"That fable," I replied, "proves that he was no god, at least. Of
the earth, earthy, he found strength only in his sphere. The moment
he aspired above it the god crushed him. I doubt if Hercules could
have derived any benefit from the same source."
"Ah! I am no Hercules, but you will also find that I am no Antaeus.
I fall, but I rise again, and I am not crushed. This is peculiarly
the source of HUMAN strength."
"Better not to fall."
"Ah! you are too late from Utopia. But--"
We were interrupted; a voice at my elbow--a soft, clear, insinuating
voice addressed my companion:--
"Ah, Monsieur Kingsley, I rejoice to see you."
Kingsley gave me a single look, which said everything, as he turned
to meet the new-comer. The latter continued:--
"Though worsted in that last encounter, you do not despair, I see."
"No! why should I?"
"True, why? Fortune baffles skill, but what of that? She is capricious.
Her despotism is feminine; and in her empire, more certainly than
any other, it may be said boldly, that, with change of day there
is change of doom. It is not always rain."
"Perhaps not, but we may have such a long spell of it that
everything is drowned. 'It's a long lane,' says the proverb, 'that
has no turn;' but a man be done up long before he gets to the
The other replied by some of the usual commonplaces by which, in
condescending language, the gamester provoked and stimulates his
unconscious victim. Kingsley, however, had reached a period of
experience which enabled him to estimate these phrases at their
"You would encourage me," he said quietly, and in tones which, to
the unnoteful ear, would have seemed natural enough, but which,
knowing him as I did, were slightly sarcastic, and containing a
deeper signification than they gave out: "but you are the better
player. I am now convinced of that. Something there is in fortune,
doubtless; my self-esteem makes me willing to admit that; and yet
I do not deceive myself. You have been too much for me--you are!"
"The difference is trifling, very trifling, I suspect. A little
more practice will soon reconcile that."
"Ha! ha! you forget the practice is to be paid for."
"True, but it is the base spirit only that scruples at the cost of
"You are fresh for the encounter to-night?"
"Pleasantly put! Is the query meant for the player or his purse?"
"Good, very good! Why, truly, there is no necessary affinity between
"And yet the one without the other would scarcely be able to
commend himself to so excellent an artist as Mr. Latour Cleveland.
Clifford, let me introduce you to my ENEMY; Mr. Cleveland, my
In this manner was I introduced. Thus was I made acquainted
with the particular individual whom it was the meditated purpose
of Kingsley to expose. But, though thus marked in the language of
his introduction, there was nothing in the tone or manner of my
companion, at all calculated to alarm the suspicions of the other.
On the contrary, there was a sort of reckless joviality in the
air of ABANDON, with which he presented me and spoke. A natural
curiosity moved me to examine Cleveland more closely. He was what
we should call, in common speech, a very elegant young man. He was
probably thirty or thirty-five years of age, tall, graceful, rather
slenderish, and of particular nicety in his dress. All his clothes
were disposed with the happiest precision. White kid-gloves covered
his taper fingers. Withdrawn, a rich diamond blazed upon one hand,