Part 5 out of 5
"By all means. I would not fail, even in seeming, in rendering
respect to one I used to like so much, and whose kindness to me was
unvarying. You have no objection, Herbert?"
"None. I may accompany you--the day being fine, and the roads in
The funeral was conducted with the disregard of what are, in other
regions, established customs that distinguish such occasions in the
rural districts of Virginia.
Written notices had been sent out, far and near, the day before,
announcing that the services would begin at two o'clock, but when
the Aylett party arrived at a quarter of an hour before the time
specified, there was no appearance of regular exercises of any kind.
A dozen carriges besides theirs were clustered about the front gate,
and a long line of saddle-horses tethered to the fence. Knots of
gentlemen in riding costume dotted the lawn and porches, and
within-doors ladies sat, or walked at their ease in the parlor and
dining room, or gathered in silent tearfulness around the open
coffin in the wide central hall.
The bed-room of the deceased was a roomy apartment in a wing of the
building, and to this Mabel was summoned before she could seat
"Miss Mary's compliments and love, ma'am; and she says won't you
please step in thar, and set with Mistis' friends and relations?"
was the audible message delivered to her by Mrs. Trent's spry
Herbert looked dubious, and Mrs. Aylett enlarged her fine eyes in a
manner that might mean either superciliousness or well-bred
amazement. But Mabel was neither surprised nor doubtful as to the
proper course for her to pursue. Time was when she was as much at
home here as Rosa herself, and Mrs. Tazewell's partiality for her
was shared by others of the family. That she had met none of them in
ten or twelve years, did not at a season like the present dampen
their affection. They would rather on this account seize upon the
opportunity of honoring publicly their mother's old favorite.
The chamber was less light than the hall she traversed to reach it.
She recognized Mary Trent, the daughter next in age to Rosa, who
fell upon her neck in a sobbing embrace, then the other sisters and
their brother, Morton Tazewell, with his wife, and was formally
presented to their children.
Finally she turned inquiringly toward a gentleman who stood against
the window opposite the door, with a little girl beside him.
Confused beyond measure, as the hitherto unthought-of consequences
of her impulsive action in sending for her friend rushed upon her
mind, Mrs. Trent faltered out:
"I forgot! You must excuse me, but I was so anxious to see you. My
brother-in-law, Mr. Chilton. He arrived yesterday--not having heard
of mother's death."
And for the first time since they looked their passionate farewell
into each other's eyes under the rose-arch of the portico at
Ridgeley, on that rainy summer morning, the two who had been lovers
again touched hands.
"I hope you are quite well, Mr. Chilton," said Mabel's firm, gentle
voice. "Is this your daughter?" kissing the serious-faced child on
the forehead, and looking intently into her eyes in the hope of
discovering a resemblance to her mother.
Then she went back to a chair next to Mrs. Trent's, and began to
talk softly of the event that had called them together, not glancing
again at the window until the outer hall was stilled, that the
clergyman might begin the funeral prayer.
"The services will be concluded at the grave," was the announcement
that succeeded the sermon; and there followed the shuffling of the
bearers' feet, and their measured tramp across the floors and down
the steps of the back porch.
The daughters and daughter-in-law let fall their veils and pulled on
their gloves, and Herbert Dorrance beckoned somewhat impatiently to
his wife from the parlor door. While she was on her way to join him,
she saw his complexion vary to a greenish sallow, his mouth work
spasmodically, and his eyes sink in anger or dismay.
Winston Aylett likewise noted and knew it, for the same look of
abject terror he had observed upon the hard Scotch face when Mabel
enumerated upon her fingers those she accused of having robbed her
of her babe.
The wife attributed it to displeasure at seeing Frederic Chilton
among the mourners. Her whilom guardian, never charitable overmuch,
inclined the more to the belief begotten within him by other
incidents, to wit: that his brother-in-law's talk was more doughty
than his deeds, and his real sentiment upon beholding the man he
boasted of having flogged as a libertine and coward, was physical
dread for his own safety. Watchful alike of the other party to the
ancient quarrel, he was rewarded by the sight of Chilton's
irrepressible start and frown, when Mabel put her hand within her
husband's arm, and stood awaiting the formation of the procession.
The discarded lover gazed steadfastly into Dorrance's countenance in
passing to his place, in recognition that scouted assimilarity with
salutation, but his eye did not waver or his color fade.
"I would not be afraid to wager that this is but another version of
the fable of the statue of the man rampant and the lion couchant,"
thought Mr. Aylett, following with his wife in the funeral train
down the grass-grown alley leading through the garden to the family
burying-ground. "It would be an entertaining study of human veracity
if I could hear Chilton's story, and compare the two. He is either
an audacious rascal, or there is something back of all that I have
heard which will not bear the light."
It was not remorse at the thought of the total alteration in his
sister's life and feelings that had grown out of this imperfect or
false evidence, but simple curiosity to inspect the lineaments and
note the actions of the cool rascal whose audacity commanded his
admiration, and note his bearing in the event of his coming into
closer contact with his former foe, that prompted him to single him
out for scrutiny among those whose relationship to the deceased
secured them places nearest the grave.
For a time the widower was gravely quiet, holding his child's hand
and looking down steadfastly into the pit at his feet, perhaps
remembering more vividly than anything else a certain sunny day in
March, many years back, when another fissure yawned close by, where
now a green mound--the ridged scar with which the earth had closed
the wound in her breast--and a stately shaft of white marble were
all that remained to the world of "Rosa, wife of Frederic Chilton."
But, while the mould was being heaped upon the coffin, he raised his
eyes, and let them rove aimlessly over the crowd, neither avoiding
nor courting observation--the cursory regard of a man who had no
strong interest in any person or group there. They changed
singularly in resting upon the family from Ridgeley. A stare of
stupefaction gave place to living fires of angry suspicion and
amazement--lurid flame that testified its violence in the reddening
of cheeks and brow, in the dilating nostril and quivering lips. Then
he passed his hand downward over his features, evidently conscious
of their distortion, and striving after a semblance of equanimity,
and looked again in stern fixity, not at her from whom he had been
parted in the early summer of his manhood, nor at his successful
rival, nor yet at the guardian who had offered him gratuitous insult
in addition to the injury of refusing to permit his ward's marriage
with a disgraced adventurer--but at Mrs. Aylett, the chatelaine of
Ridgeley, the wife whose serene purity had never been blemished by a
doubting breath; chaste and polished matron; the admired copy for
younger and less discreet, but not more beautiful women. He surveyed
her boldly--if the imagination had not seemed preposterous--Mr.
Aylett would have said scornfully, as he might study the face and
figure of some abandoned wretch who had accosted him in the public
thoroughfare as an acquaintance.
A haughty and uncontrollable gesture from the husband succeeded in
diverting the offender's notice to himself for one instant--not
more. But in that flash he detected a shade of difference in the
expression that irked him; a ray, that was inquiry, sharp and eager,
tempered by compassion, yet still contemptuous.
All this passed in less time than it has taken me to write a line
descriptive of the pantomime. The mound was shaped, and the
decorously mournful train turned from it to retrace their course to
the house, Frederic Chilton imitating the example of those about
him, but moving like a sleep-walker, his brows corrugated and eyes
sightless to all surrounding objects. He had awakened when the
Ridgeley carriage drove to the door. Mrs. Sutton detained Mabel in
one of the upper chambers to concert plans for a visit to the
homestead while the Dorrances should be there. Aunt and niece had
not met since the arrival of the latter in Virginia, a fortnight
before, the elder lady being in constant attendance upon Mrs.
"This is very stupid! And I am getting hungry!" said Mrs. Aylett,
aside to her lord, as she stood near a front window, tapping the
floor with her feet, while vehicle after vehicle received its load
and rolled off. "We shall be the last on the ground. Herbert! can't
you intimate to Mabel that we are impatient to be gone?"
"I don't know where she is!" growled the brother, for once
non-complaisant to her behest, and not stirring from the chair in
the corner into which he had dropped at his entrance.
His head hung upon his breast, and he appeared to study the lining
of his hat-crown, balancing the brim by his forefingers between his
knees. Mrs. Aylett had lowered her veil in the burying-ground or on
her way thither, but it was a flimsy mass of black lace--richly
wrought, yet insufficient to hide the paleness of the upper part of
her visage. Mr. Aylett watched and wondered, with but one definite
idea in his brain beyond the resolve to ferret out the entire
mystery in his stealthy, taciturn fashion. Herbert Dorrance had
been, in some manner, compromised by his association with this
Chilton, had reason to dread exposure from him, and his sister was
the confidante of his guilty secret.
"I shall know all about it in due season," thought the master of
himself and his dependents.
Not that he meant to extort or wheedle it from his consort's
keeping, but he had implicit faith in his own detective talents.
"Here she is at last!" he said, when Mabel came down the staircase,
holding Aunt Rachel's hand, and talking low and earnestly, her noble
face and even gliding step a refreshing contrast to Mrs. Aylett's
nervousness and Herbert's dogged sullenness.
"I am sorry I have kept you so long, but there will be less dust
than if we had gone sooner. The other carriages will have had time
to get out of our way," she said, pleasantly. "Winston," coming up
to her brother, and speaking in an undertone, "will it be quite
convenient for you to send for Aunt Rachel on next Friday?"
"Entirely! The carriage shall be at your service at any hour or day
you wish," with more cordiality than was common with him.
However treacherous others might be in their reserve and
half-confessions, here was one who had never deceived him or
knowingly misled him to believe her better, or otherwise, than she
was. Honesty and truth were stamped upon her face by a life-long
practice of these homely virtues--not by meretricious arts. It was
tardy justice, but he rendered it without grudging, if not heartily.
A few words passed as to the hour at which the carriage was to call
for Mrs. Sutton, and Mabel kissed her "Good-by," the others shaking
hands with her, and with three or four of the Tazewell kinsmen who
officiated as masters of ceremonies, and Mrs. Aylett made an
impatient movement toward the front steps. Directly in her route,
leaning against a pillar of the old-fashioned porch, was Frederic
Chilton, no longer dreamy and perplexed, but on the alert with eye
and ear--not losing one sound of her voice, or trick of feature. She
inclined her head slightly and courteously, the notice due a friend
of the house she, as guest, was about to leave. He did not bow, nor
relax the rigor of his watch. Only, when she was seated in the
carriage, he bent respectfully and mutely before Mabel, who followed
her hostess, and paying as little attention to the two gentlemen as
they did to him walked up to Mrs. Sutton, and said something
inaudible to the bystanders. As they drove out of the yard, the
Ridgeley quartette saw the pair saunter, side by side, to the
extreme end of the portico, apparently to be out of hearing of the
rest, but no one remarked aloud upon the renewed intimacy and then
"If it is anything very startling, the old gossip will never keep it
to herself," Mr. Aylett congratulated himself, while his wife's
complexion paled gradually to bloodlessness, and Herbert sat back in
his corner, sulky and dumb. "And she is coming to us on Friday!"
THUNDER IN THE AIR.
THE only malady that put Herbert Dorrance in frequent and unpleasant
remembrance of his mortality was a fierce headache, which had of
late years supervened upon any imprudence in diet, and upon
excessive agitation of mind or physical exertion. His invariable
custom, when he awoke at morning with one of these, was to trace it
to its supposed source, and after determining that it was nothing
more than might have been expected from the circumstance, to commit
himself to his wife's nursing for the day.
She ought, therefore, to have been surprised when, while admitting
that the pain in his head was intense, he yet, on the morrow
succeeding Mrs. Tazewell's funeral, persisted in rising and dressing
"It must have been the roast duck at dinner yesterday," he calmly
and languidly explained the attack. "It was fat, and the stuffing
reeked with butter, sage, and onion. An ostrich could not have
digested it. I was tired, too, and should not have eaten heartily of
even the plainest food."
Mabel neither opposed nor sustained the theory. She had slept so ill
herself as to know how restless he had been; had heard his hardly
suppressed sighs and tossings to and fro, infallible indications
with him of serious perturbation. Had his discomfort been bodily
only, he would have felt no compunction in calling her to his aid,
as he had done scores of times. Her sleepless hours had also been
fraught with melancholy disquiet. Putting away from her--with
firmness begotten by virtue born of will--and so much of this
thoughtfulness as pertained to the bygone days with which Frederic
Chilton was inseparable associated, she yet deliberated seriously
upon the expediency of speaking out courageously to Herbert of the
relation this man had once borne to her, the incidents of their
recent meeting, and the effect she saw was produced upon her
husband's mind by the sight of him.
"If we would have this negative happiness continue, this matter
ought to be settled at once and forever," she said, inwardly. "He
must not suspect me of weak and wicked clinging to the phantoms of
my youth; must believe that I do not harbor a regret or wish
incompatible with my duty as his wife. I will avail myself of the
first favorable moment to assure him of the folly of his fears and
of his discomfort."
Another consideration--the natural sequence of her conviction of his
unhappiness--was a touching appeal to her woman's heart. If he had
not loved her more fervently than his phlegmatic temperament and
undemonstrative bearing would induce one to suppose, he would not
dread the rekindling of her olden fancy for another. The image of
him who, she had confessed, had taught her the depth and weight of
her own affections, whom she had loved as she had never professed to
care for him, would not have haunted his pillow to chase sleep, and
torture him with forebodings.
"I must make him comprehend that Mabel Aylett at twenty, wilful,
romantic, and undisciplined, was a different being from the woman
who has called him 'husband,' without a blush, for fourteen years!"
It was these recollections that softened her kindly tones to
tenderness; made the pressure of her hand upon his temples a caress,
rather than a manual appliance for deadening pain; while she
combated his intention of appearing at the breakfast-table.
"Lie down upon the sofa!" she entreated. "Let me bring up a cup of
strong coffee for you; then darken the room, and chafe your head
until you fall asleep, since you turn a deaf ear to all proposals of
mustard foot-baths and Dr. Van Orden's panacea pills."
"No!" stubbornly. "Aylett and Clara would think it strange. They do
not understand how a slight irregularity of diet or habit can
produce such a result. They would attribute it to other causes. I
may feel better when I have taken something nourishing."
The dreaded critics received the tidings of his indisposition
without cavil at its imputed origin, treated the whole subject with
comparative indifference, which would have mortified him a week ago,
but seemed now to assuage his unrest. The breakfast hour was a quiet
one. Herbert could not attempt the form of eating, despite his
expressed hope of the curative effects of nourishment, and sipped
his black coffee at tedious intervals of pain, looking more ill
after each. Mabel was silent, and regardful of his suffering, while
Mrs. Aylett toyed with the tea-cup, broke her biscuit into small
heaps of crumbs upon her plate, and under her visor of ennui and
indolent musing, kept her eye upon her vis-a-vis, whose face was
opaque ice; and his intonations, when he deigned to speak, meant
nothing save that he was controller of his own meditations, and
would not be meddled with.
"You are not well enough to ride over to the Courthouse with me,
Dorrance?" he said, interrogatively, his meal despatched. "It is
court-day, you know?"
"What do you say, Mabel?" was Herbert's clumsy reference to his
nurse. "Don't you think I might venture?"
"I would not, if I were in your place," she replied, cautiously
dissuasive. "The day is raw, and there will be rain before evening.
Dampness always aggravates neuralgia."
"It is neuralgia, then, is it?" queried Winston, shortly, drawing on
His sister looked up surprised.
"What else should it be?"
"Nothing--unless the symptoms indicate softening of the brain!" he
rejoined, with his slight, dissonant laugh. "In either case, your
decision is wise. He is better off in your custody than he would be
abroad. I hope I shall find you convalescent when I return. Good
His wife accompanied him to the outer door.
"It is chilly!" she shivered, as this was opened. "Are you warmly
clad, love?" feeling his overcoat. "And don't forget your umbrella."
Her hand had not left his shoulder, and, in offering a parting kiss,
she leaned her head there also.
"I wish you would not go!" she said impulsively and sincerely.
"I cannot say--except that I dread to be left alone all day. You may
laugh at me, but I feel as if something terrible were hanging over
me--or you. The spiritual oppression is like the physical
presentiment sensitive temperaments suffer when a thunder-storm is
brooding, but not ready to break. Yet I can refer my fears to no
"That is folly." Mr. Aylett bit off the end of a cigar, and felt in
his vest pocket for a match-safe. "You should be able always to
assign a reason for the fear as well as the hope that is in you. You
have no idea, you say, from what recent event your prognostication
takes its hue?"
She laughed, and straightened her fine neck.
"From the same imprudence that has consigned poor Herbert to the
house for the day, I suspect--a late and heavy dinner. I had the
nightmare twice before morning. You will be home to supper?"
Hesitating upon the monosyllable, he took hold of her elbows, so as
to bring her directly before him, and searched her countenance until
it was dyed with blushes.
"Why do you color so furiously?" he asked in raillery that had a sad
or sardonic accent. "I was about to ask if you would be inconsolable
if I never came back. Perhaps your presentiment points to some such
fatality. These little accidents have happened in better-regulated
families than ours."
She gasped and blanched in pain or terror.
"What is the matter? Have I hurt you?" releasing his grasp.
"Yes--HERE!" laying his hand upon her heart, the beautiful eyes
terrified and pathetic as those of a wounded deer. "For the love of
Heaven, never stab me again with such suggestions. When you die, I
shall not care to live. When you cease to love me, I shall wish we
had died together on our marriage-day--my husband!"
He let her twine her arms about his neck, laid his cheek to her
brow, clasped her tightly and kissed her impetuously, madly, again
and yet again--disengaged himself, and ran down the steps. She was
standing on the top one, still flushed and breathless from the
violence of his embrace, when he looked back from the gate, her
commanding figure framed by the embowering creepers, as Mabel's
girlish shape had been when Frederic Chilton waved his farewell to
her from the same spot.
Did either of them think of it, or would either have reckoned it an
ominous coincidence, if the remembrance of that long-ago parting had
presented itself then and there?
Herbert spent the day upon the lounge in the family sitting-room--a
cosy retreat, between the parlor and the conservatory, which had
been added to the lower floor in the reign of the present queen. Her
brother's seizure was no trifling ailment. Alternations of stupor
and racking spasms of pain defied, for several hours, his wife's
application of the remedies she had found efficacious in former
attacks. Her ultimate resort was chloroform, and by the liberal use
of this, relaxation of the tense nerves and a sleep that resembled
healing repose were induced by the middle of the afternoon. The
weather continued to threaten rain, although none had fallen as yet,
and the wind moaned lugubriously in the leafless branches of the
great walnut before the end window of the narrow apartment. It was a
grand tree, the patriarch of the grove that sheltered the house from
the north winds. Mabel, relieved from watchfulness, and to some
extent from anxiety, by her husband's profound slumber, lay back in
her chair with a long-drawn sigh, and looked out at the naked limbs
of the wrestling giant--the majestic sway and reel she used to note
with childish awe--and thought of many things which had befallen her
since then, until the steady rocking of the boughs and hum of the
November breeze soothed her into languor--then drowsiness--then
She awoke in alarm at the sense of something hurtful or startling
hovering near her.
The fire had been trimmed before she slept, and now flamed up gayly;
the window was dusky, as were the distant corners of the room, and
Herbert was gazing steadfastly at her.
"I fell asleep without knowing it. I am sorry! Have you wanted
anything? How long have you been awake?"
"Only a few minutes, my dearest!" with no change in the mesmeric
intentness of his gaze. "I want nothing more than to have you always
near me. You have been a good, faithful wife, Mabel, better and
nobler--a thousandfold nobler than I deserved. I have thought it all
over while you were sleeping so tranquilly in my sight. I wish my
conscience were void of evil to all mankind as is yours. I awoke
with an odd and awful impression upon my mind. The firelight flamed
in a bright stream between your chair and me--and I must have
dreamed it--or the chloroform had affected my head--I thought it was
a river of light dividing us! You were a calm, white angel who had
entered into rest--uncaring for and forgetful of me. I was lost,
homeless, wandering forever and ever!"
Had her prosaic spouse addressed her in a rhythmic improvisation,
Mabel could not have been more astounded.
"You are dreaming yet!" she said, kneeling by him and binding his
temples with her cool, firm palms. "When we are divided, it will be
by a dark--not a bright river."
"Until death do us part!" Herbert repeated, thoughtfully. "I wish I
could hear you say, once, that you do not regret that clause of your
marriage vow. I was not your heart's choice, you know, Mabel,
however decided may have been the approval of your friends and of
your judgment. The thought oppresses me as it did not in the first
years of our wedded life."
"I am glad you have spoken of this," began the wife. "I would
disabuse your mind--"
"All in the dark!" exclaimed Mrs. Aylett, at the door. "And what a
stifling odor of chloroform!"
Mabel got up, and drew a heavy travelling-shawl that covered
Herbert's lower limbs over his arms and chest.
"I will open the window!" she said, deprecatingly.
A sluice of cold air rushed in, beating the blaze this way and that,
puffing ashes from the hearth into the room, and eliciting from Mrs.
Aylett what would have been a peevish interjection in another woman.
"My dear sister! the remedy is worse than the offence. Chloroform is
preferable to creosote, or whatever abominable element is the
principal ingredient of smoke and cold! The thermometer must be down
to the freezing-point!"
Mabel lowered the sash.
"You have been sitting in a room without fire, I suspect. The
temperature here is delightful. I am sorry we have exiled you from
such comfortable quarters."
"Don't speak of it! I cannot endure to sit here alone--or anywhere
else. I have slept most of the afternoon. How the wind blows! I wish
Winston were at home."
"It is a dark afternoon. He seldom returns from court so early as
this. It is not six yet."
Mabel still essayed pacification of the other's ruffled mood.
"You are better, I see," Mrs. Aylett said abruptly to her brother.
"You were not subject to these spells formerly. People generally
outlive constitutional headaches--so I have noticed. It is queer
yours should occur so often and wax more violent each time. You
should have medical advice before they ripen into a more serious
Herbert shaded his eyes from the fire, and lay with out replying,
until his wife believed he had relapsed into a doze.
She was convinced of her mistake by his saying, slowly and
"You do not enter into Clara's whole meaning, Mabel. We have been
careful, all of us, never to tell you that our father was imbecile
by the time he was fifty and died, in his sixtieth year, of the
disease your brother named this morning--softening of the brain. I,
of all his children, am most like him physically. If it be true that
this danger menaces me, you should be informed of it, and know,
furthermore, that it is incurable."
Mabel also paused before answering.
"I cannot assent to the hypothesis of your inherited malady,
Herbert. These headaches may mean nothing. But let that be as it
may, you should have told me of this before."
"You see," broke in Mrs. Aylett's triumphant sarcasm. "The reward of
your maiden attempt at congugal confidence is reproof. What have I
warned you from the beginning?"
"Not reproof," corrected Mabel, in mild decision. "My knowledge of
the secret he deemed it wise and kind to withhold would have gained
for him my sympathy, and my more constant and intelligent care of
his health. It is the hidden fear that grows and multiplies itself
most rapidly. Before it is killed it must be dragged to the light."
"That is YOUR hypothesis," was the bright retort. "We Dorrances have
justly earned a reputation for dissretion by the excellent
preservation of our own secrets, and those committed to our keeping
by our friends. My motto is, tell others nothing about yourself
which they cannot learn without your confession. An autobiography is
always either a bore or a blunder. Not that I would regulate the
number and nature of your divulgations to your wife, Herbert. As to
Winston's unlucky hit this morning, it was mere fortuity. I have
never felt myself called upon to enlighten him in family secrets,
and his is an incurious disposition. He never asks idle questions.
He has a marvellous faculty of striking home-blows in the dark, but
that is no reason why one should betray his wound by crying out.
Apropos to darkness, may I ring for a lamp, or will the light hurt
"The fire-light is more trying," rejoined Mabel, pushing a screen
before the sofa, and placing herself where she could, in its shadow,
hold her husband's hand.
It was cold and limp when she lifted it, but tightened upon hers
with the instinctive grip of gratitude too profound to be uttered.
She had never been so near loving him as at the instant in which he
believed he had incurred her ever-lasting displeasure. Generosity
and pity were fast undoing the petrifying influences of her early
disappointment, their mutual reserve, and tacit misunderstandings.
If half he feared were true, his need of her affection, her counsel
and companionship were dire. Whatever wrong he had done her by
keeping back the tale of hereditary infirmity, he had suffered more
from the act than she could ever do. Who knew how much of what she,
with others, mistook for constitutional phlegm and studied
austerity, was the outward sign of the battle between dread of his
inherited doom and the resolve of an iron will to defy natural laws
and the sentence of destiny herself, and hold reason upon her
Heaven's gentlest and kindest angels were busy with Mabel Dorrance's
heart in that reverie, and, as they wrought, the cloud that had
rested there for fifteen years broke into rainbow smiles that
illumined her countenance into the similitude of the shining ones.
"I bless Thee, Father, the All-wise and Ever-merciful, that she is
safe!" was her voiceless thanksgiving.
No more bitter tears over the lonely, sunken grave! no more
hearkening, with aching, never-to-be-satisfied ears for the patter
of the "little feet that never trod." The great sorrow of her life
that had been good in His sight was at length a blessing in hers.
Her "hereafter" of knowledge of His doings had come to her in this
"Does it rain, Peter?" questioned Mrs. Aylett of the lad who brought
"Yes, ma'am. It's beginnin' to storm powerful!" he said,
"Your master has not come?"
"See that the lantern over the great gate is lighted, and that some
one is ready to take his horse. And, Peter," as he was going out,
"tell Thomas not to bring in supper until Mr. Aylett returns."
She moved to the window, bowed her hands on either side of her eyes
to exclude the radiance within, and strained them into the black,
"He will have a dark and a disagreeable ride," she said, coming back
to the fire.
Her uneasiness was so palpable as to excite Mabel's compassion.
"Every step of the road is familiar to him, and he is accustomed to
night rides," she said, encouragingly. "Yes," absently. "But he will
be very wet. Hear the rain!"
It plashed against the north window, and tinkled upon the tin roof
of the conservatory, and Mabel, though aware of her brother's
habitual disregard of wind and weather, could not but sympathize
with the wifely concern evinced by the sober physiognomy and
unsettled demeanor of one generally so calm. She observed, now, that
her sister-in-law was arrayed more richly than usual, and her attire
was always handsome and tasteful. A deep purple silk, trimmed upon
skirt and waist with velvet bands of darker purple, showed off her
clear skin to fine advantage, and was saved from monotony of effect
by a headdress of lace and buff ribbons. A stately and a comely
matron, she was bedight for her lord's return; weighed as heavy each
minute that detained him from her arms.
She was still standing by the low mantel, her arm resting lightly
upon it, the fire-blaze bringing out lustrous reflections in her
drapery and hair, and tinging her pensive check with youthful
carmine, when her husband entered.
IT was a peculiarity of Winston Aylett that he was never discomposed
in seeming, however embarrassing or distressing might be his
position. In his childhood he was one to whom, to use the common
phrase, dirt would not stick. His face was clean and fair, his hands
smooth, and his hair in order after rough and tumble experiences
that sent his companions home begrimed, ragged, and unkempt frights.
To-night, he had ridden a dozen miles in the teeth of the storm, and
made no pause before appearing before his wife and sister, except to
lay off his hat and overcoat in the hall. But had he expected to
encounter a roomful of ladies, his costume could not have been more
His linen was pure and fresh, even to the narrow line of wristband
edging his coat sleeve; his clearly cut patrician features were
tranquil in every line and tint; his step was the light, yet
deliberate stride of an athlete without passion or bravado.
Conscious power, inexorable will, and thorough self-command were
stamped upon him from crown to foot, and his salutation to the small
family party accompanied a smile as mirthless and cold as were his
Mrs. Aylett advanced a step, not more, and returned the bow that
comprehended all present, with a pleased, not rapturous welcome.
"We were beginning to fear lest you might be wet," she said,
emulating his polite equanimity. Genuine tact is always
chameleon-like in quality. "It rains quite fast, does it not?"
"The storm is increasing, but I experienced no inconvenience from
it, thank you."
He sat down in his favorite arm-chair, and spread his fingers before
"I am happy to see you so very much better"--to Herbert. "There were
many kind inquiries for you at the court-house to-day. Dr. Ritchie
wanted to know if you had ever taken nux vomica for these neuralgic
turns. I invited him to come in with me and prescribe for you, but
he said he must push on home, so we parted at the outer gate."
So affable as almost to put others at their ease in his company, he
chatted until supper was announced; regretted civilly Herbert's
inability to go to the table, and gave his sister his arm into the
dining-room, Mrs. Aylett following in their wake. If he did not eat
heartily, he praised, in gentlemanly moderation, the viands selected
by his consort for his delectation after his wet ride, and pleaded a
late dinner as the reason of his present abstinence. Then they
adjourned to the apartment where they had left Mr. Dorrance, and the
host produced his cigar-case.
"Mabel says that smoke never offends your olfactories, or affects
your head unpleasantly, when you are suffering from this nervous
affection," he said to Herbert.
"On the contrary, it often acts as a sedative," was the reply.
Winston lighted a cigar with an allumette from a bronze
taper-stand--a Christmas gift from his wife, which she kept supplied
with fanciful spiles twisted and fringed into a variety of shapes;
drew several long breaths to be certain that the fire had taken hold
of the heart of the Havana, tossed the pretty paper into the embers,
and resumed his seat in the chimney corner.
"A sedative is a good thing for people who allow their nerves to get
out of gear," he remarked, dryly and leisurely, puffing contentedly
in the middle and at the end of the sentence. "But he who does this
subverts the order of the ruler aad the ruled. I supposed I had
nerves once, but it is an age since they have dared molest me. I
know that I had my impulses when I was younger."
He stopped to fillip the ash forming upon the ignited end of his
cigar, performing the operation with nicety, using the extreme tip
of his middle-finger nail over the salver attached for the purpose
to the bronze smoking-set.
"I obeyed one, above a dozen years ago. I learned only to-day that
it was rash and unwise, and to how much evil it may lead."
"Not a very active evil, if you have just discovered it to be such."
The speaker was his sister. Herbert was motionless upon his couch.
Mrs. Aylett, in the lounging-chair at the opposite side of the
hearth from her husband, was cutting the leaves of a new magazine he
had brought from the post-office, and did not seem to hear his
"You reason upon the assumption that ignorance is bliss," said Mr.
Aylett. "Allow me to express the opinion that the adage embodying
that idea is the refuge of cowards and fools. No matter how grievous
a bankrupt a man may be financially in spirit, he is craven or a
blockhead to shrink the investigation of his accounts. Which
allusion to bankruptcy brings me to the recital of a choicely
offensive bit of scandal I heard to-day. It is seldom that I give
heed to the like, but the delicious rottenness revealed by this tale
enforced my hearing, and fixed the details in my mind. I could not
but think, as I rode home, of the accessories which would add
effectiveness, to-night, to my second-hand narrative. I had the
whole scene, which is now before me, in my mind's eye--the warm
firelight and the shaded lamp brightening all within, while the rain
pattered without; the interesting invalid over there gradually
stirring into interest as the story progressed; you, Mabel, calmly
and critically attentive; and my Lady Aylett, too proud to look the
desire she really feels to handle the lovely carrion."
"Your figures are not provocative of insatiable appetite," returned
his wife, with inimitable sang-froid, staying her paper knife that
she might examine an engraving.
"Your appetite needs further excitants, then? So did mine until I
began to suspect that the history might be authentic, and not a
figment of the raconteur's imagination. The hero's name at first
disposed me to set down the entire relation as a fiction. It is
romantic enough to perfume a three-volume novel--Julius Lennox!"
Mabel's instinctive thought was for her husband, but, in turning to
him she could not but notice that Mrs. Aylett sat motionless, the
paper-cutter between two leaves, and her left hand pressed hard upon
the upper, but without attempting to sever them.
Herbert twisted his head upon the pillow until he faced the back of
the sofa, and a convulsion went through him, hardly quelled by the
clasp of Mabel's hand upon his.
"Julius Lennox!" reiterated Mr. Aylett, between the fragrant puffs,
"A lieutenant in the navy--the good-looking, but, as the sequel
proved, not over-steady, spouse of a lady who was the daughter of
another naval officer of similar rank. The latter was compelled to
leave the service on account of incipient idiocy, and retired, upon
half-pay, to an unfashionable quarter of a certain great city, where
his wife, a smart Yankee, opened a boarding-house for law and
medical students, and contrived not only to keep the souls and
bodies of her family together, but to marry off her two still single
daughters--the one to a barrister, the other to a physician. The
lovely Louise Lennox--a pretty alliteration, is it not?--remained
meanwhile under the paternal roof, her husband's ship being absent
most of the time, and the handsome Julius having unlimited
privileges in the line condemned by "Black-eyed Susan" in her
parting interview with her sailor lover--finding a mistress in
every port. It is woman's nature and wisdom to seek consolation for
such afflictions as the deprivation of the beloved one's society,
and the almost certainty that he is basking his faithless self in
the sunlight of another's eyes. Our heroine, being at once ardent
and philosophical, put the lex talionis into force by falling in
love with one of her mother's lodgers, a sprig of the legal
profession. The favored youth--so says my edition of the
romance--remained preternaturally unconscious of the sentiment he
had inspired, attributing her manifestations of partiality to
platonic regard, until she opened his modest eyes by proposing an
elopement. He had completed his professional studies, taken out a
license to practise law, was about to quit her and the city, and the
no-longer-adored Julius was coming home--a wreck in health and
purse--upon a six months' leave of absence. It must be owned the
Lady Louise had some excuse for a measure that seemed to have amazed
and horrified her cicisbeo. Recoiling from the proposition and
herself with the virtuous indignation that is ever aroused in the
manly bosom by similar advances, he packed up his trunk,
double-locked it and his heart, paid his bill, and decamped from the
"Ignoble conclusion to a tender affair; but not so devoid of
tragicality as would seem. Infuriated at the desertion of this
modern Joseph, Louise, the lorn, avenged the slight offered her
charms by declaring to her youngest brother, the only one who
resided in the same city with herself, that Joseph had made
dishonorable proposals to her--a proceeding which demonstrates that
the feminine character has withstood the proverbially changing
effects of time from age to age. My narrative is but a later and a
Gentile version of the Jewish novelette to which I have referred.
The role of Potiphar was cast for the unsophisticated brother, who,
being unable to immure the unimpressible Joseph in the Tombs,
attempted the only means of redress that remained to him, to wit:
"And here," continued the narrator, yet more slowly, "I find myself
perplexed by the discrepancy between the statement I have had to-day
and one of this section of the story furnished me several years
since. In the latter the indignant fraternal relative flogged the
would-be betrayer within a quarter of an inch of his life. The other
account reverses the position of the parties, and makes Joseph the
incorruptible also the invincible. However this may have been, the
adventure seems to have quenched the loving Louise's brilliancy for
a season. We hear no more of her until after her father's decease,
when she re-enters the lists of Cupid in another State, as the
blushing and still beautiful virgin-betrothed of a man of birth and
means, who woos and weds her under her maiden cognomen--the entire
family, including the valiant brother who figured as whippee or
whipper, in the castigation exploit--being accomplices in the
righteous fraud. I might, did I not fear being prolix, tell of
sundry side-issues growing out of the main stalk of this plot, such
as the ingenious manoeuvres by which the promising couple of
conspirators averted, upon the eve of the sister's bridal, the
threatened expose of their machinations to entrap the wealthy lover.
Suffice it to say that the duped husband (by brevet) lived for a
decade and a half in the placid enjoyment of the ignorance which my
sagacious sister here is disposed to confound with rational
bliss--nor is he quite sure, to this day, whether spouse No. 1 of
the partner of his bosom still lives, or by clearance in what court
of infamy or justice she managed to shuffle off her real name, and
win a right to resume the title of spinster."
He lighted a fresh cigar, and for the space of perhaps a minute, a
dead and ominous silence prevailed. Mabel, pallid and faint at
heart, could not take her eyes from his countenance, with its cruel
smile, frozen, shallow eyes, and the deep white dints coming and
going in his nostrils.
He had judged without partiality. He would condemn without mercy. He
would punish without remorse.
Herbert still faced the back of the lounge, but he had slipped his
hand from the relaxing hold of hers, and pressed it over his eyes.
She could not seek to possess herself of it again. Winston was not
the only dupe of the nefarious fraud, the betrayal of which had
overtaken the guilty pair thus late in their career of duplicity.
Yet, however severely she had suffered in heart from their falsehood
and her brother's intolerance, no stain would rest upon her name,
while, terminate as the affair might, the disgraceful revelation
would shipwreck her brother's happiness for life, if not bring upon
the old homestead a storm of scandal that would leave no more trace
of the honorable reputation heretofore borne by its owners than
remained of the smiling plenty of the cities of the plain after the
fiery wrath of the Lord had overthrown them.
Mrs. Aylett resumed the suspended operation of cutting the leaves of
her new monthly; fluttered them to be certain that none were
overlooked; laid down the periodical; brushed the scattered bits of
paper from her silken skirt, and retaining the paper-knife--a costly
toy of mother-of-pearl and silver--changed her position so as to
look her husband directly in the eye.
"I believe I can give you the information you lack," she said, in
curiously constrained accents, the concentration of some feeling to
which she could or would not grant other vent. "Clara Louise Lennox
obtained a divorce from her first husband on the grounds of
drunkenness, failure to maintain her, infidelity, and personal
ill-usage. He came home from sea, as you have said, the battered
ruin of a MAN, fallen beyond hope of redemption. There was no law,
written or moral, which obliged her, when once freed from it, to
carry about with her and thrust upon the notice of others the
loathsome body of death typified by his name and her matronly title.
She commenced life anew at her father's death, contrary, let me say
to the advice of all her friends, if I except the mother, who could
refuse nothing to her favorite daughter. The scheme was boldly
conceived. You have admitted that it was successfully carried out.
In New York the family were not known beyond the circle with which
they disdained to associate when the lodging-house business was
abandoned. There were a thousand chances to one that in her new
abode Miss Dorrance would be identified by some busybody with the
divorced Mrs. Lennox. She risked her fortunes upon the one chance,
and won. I do not expect you to believe that the impostor was moved
by any other consideration in contracting her second marriage than
the wish to seek the more exalted sphere of society and influence
which Fate had hitherto denied her. You would sneer were I to hint,
however remotely, at a regard for her high-born suitor the dashing,
but dissipated officer had never awakened--"
Mr. Aylett lifted his hand, smiling more evilly than before.
"Excuse the interruption! but after your statement of the fact that
such sentimental asseverations would be futile, you waste time in
recapitulating the loves of the lady aforementioned, and we in
hearing them. I think I express the opinion of the audience--fit,
but few--when I say that we require no other evidence than that
afforded by the story I have told of Mrs. Lennox's susceptibility
and capacity for affection. We are willing to take for granted that
the latter was illimitable."
"As you like!" idly tapping the nails of her left hand with the
knife. "Is there anything else pertaining to this history into which
you would like to inquire?"
It was a sight to curdle the blood about one's heart, this duel
between husband and wife, with double-edged blades, wreathed with
flowers. Mr. Aylett's attitude of lazy indifference was not exceeded
by Clara's proud languor. He laughed a little at the last question.
"I have speculated somewhat--having nothing else in particular to
engage my mind on my way home--upon the point I named just now, and
upon one other akin to it. All that the novel needs to round it off
neatly is an encounter between the real and the quasi consorts. I
cannot specify them by name, in consequence of the uncertainty I
have mentioned. One was a bona-fide husband--the other a bogus
article, let New York divorce laws decide what they will, provided
always that the fallen Julius had not bidden farewell to this lower
earth before his loyal Louise plighted her faith to her Southern
gallant. Death is the Alexander of the universe. There is no retying
the knots he has cut."
From the pertinacity with which he returned to the question one
could discern his actual anxiety to have it settled. Mabel
understood that the only salve of possible application to his
outraged pride and love was the discovery that Clara had been really
a widow when he wedded her. The divorce and subsequent deception
were sins of heinous dye against his ideas of respectability and
unspotted honor, but he would never forgive the woman who had had
two living husbands, freed from the former though she was by a legal
No one saw this more clearly than did she whose fate trembled upon
the next words she should utter. With all her hardihood, she
hesitated to reply. Luxury, wealth, and station were on one side;
degradation and poverty on the other. The solitary hope of
reinstatement in the affection, if not the esteem, of him she loved
truly as it was in her to love anything beside herself, was arrayed
against the certainty of alienation and the tearful odds of
Her answer, under the presure of the warring emotions, was a
semitone lower, and less distinctly enunciated than those that had
gone before it.
"The denouement you propose for your romance is impracticable.
Julius Lennox died before the date of the second marriage."
Herbert drew himself to a sitting posture by clutching the back of
the lounge. His red eyes and tumbled hair made him look more like a
mad than a sick man.
"In the name of Heaven," he demanded hoarsely, "have we not had
enough lies, every one of which has been a blunder, and a fatal one?
I told you, years ago, that the scene of this evening was a mere
question of time; that, without a miracle, an edifice founded upon
iniquity and cemented by falsehood must crush you before you could
lay the top-stone. You would not be warned--you held on your way
without hesitation or compunction, and now you would add to sin
fatuity. Do you suppose that after what your husband has learned of
your untruthfulness he will accept your assertion on any subject
without inquiry? And, how many in your own family and out of
it--although these may not know you by the name you now bear--are
cognizant of the fact that Julius Lennox was alive for almost
fifteen months after you became Mrs. Aylett?"
Mabel's arm was about his neck, her hand upon his mouth.
"No more! no more! if you love me!" she whispered in an agony.
"Should he guess all, he would murder her!"
"You are prepared to certify that he is dead NOW, are you, Mr.
Dorrance?" queried Winston, suspicious of this by-play.
"I am!" sulkily.
"It is a pity!" was the ambiguous rejoinder.
Something clicked upon the hearth. It was the fragments of the toy
stiletto, broken by an uncontrollable twitch of the small fingers
that held it.
Then Mrs. Aylett arose, pale as a ghost, but unquailing in eye or
"May I know your lordship's pleasure respecting your cast-off
"In the morning, yes!" glancing up disdainfully. "Meantime, let me
wish you 'good-night' and happy dreams."
"NO, no! my dear!" said Mrs. Sutton, earnestly. "I am shocked and
astonished that you should ever have labored under such a delusion.
Frederic told me the story, and a dreadful one it was, the day old
Mrs. Tazewell was buried. Wasn't it wonderful that he never knew
whom Winston had married until he saw her leaning upon his arm in
the graveyard? He recognized Mr. Dorrance in the house, but supposed
him to be a visitor at Ridgeley and a relative of Mrs. Aylett,
having heard that her maiden name was Dorrance. As to his being your
husband, it did not at first occur to him, so bewildered was he by
your meeting and the thoughts awakened by it. But at sight of HER
the truth rushed over him, nearly depriving him of his wits. He soon
got out of me all that I knew, and by putting this and that
together, we made out the mystery. I was so grieved and indignant
and horrified that I was for sending him forthwith to Winston, that
he might clear himself of the shocking charges they had preferred
against him, by exposing the motives of his accusers. But he was
stubborn and independent. 'It can do no good now,' he said. 'Fifteen
years ago this discovery would have been my temporal salvation. And
Dorrance is Mabel's husband. I cannot touch him without wounding
her.' I could not reconcile this mode of reasoning with my
conscience. If wrong had been done, it ought to be righted. I did
not sleep a wink all night. I wept over my noble, generous,
slandered boy, and over you, my darling! but my chief thought was
anger at the shameless depravity, the cold-blooded cruelty of the
brazen-faced adventuress who sat in your angel mother's place. For
aught Frederic or I knew, her real husband was still alive. He had
never heard of the divorce, you see, and the circumstance of her
marrying Winston under her maiden name looked black.
"Well! I pondered upon the horrible affair until I could hold my
peace no longer. Frederic and Florence went home with Mary Trent
next morning, and knowing that Winston must pass the upper gate on
his way to court, I put on my bonnet soon after breakfast, and
strolled in that direction. By and by he rode up, stopped his horse,
and began to talk so sociably that before I quite knew what I was
doing, I was in the middle of my story. I wonder now how I did it,
but I was excited, and he listened so patiently, questioned so
quietly, that I did not realize, for several hours afterward, what a
blaze I must have kindled in his heart and home, whether he believed
me or not. The next thing I heard was not, as I expected, that he
and his wife had quarrelled, or that he was going to challenge
Frederic for having belied him, but that poor Dorrance was very ill
with some affection of the brain. It was not until a year
later--just after his death--that people began to talk about the
strange carryings-on at Ridgeley; how Mr. and Mrs. Aylett occupied
separate apartments, and never sat, or walked, or rode together, or
spoke to one another, even at table, unless there were visitors
present. Nobody could imagine what caused the estrangement, and for
the sake of the family honor I guarded my tongue. She must be a
wretched woman, if all of this be true. She is breaking fast under
it, in spite of her pride and skill in concealment. I ought not to
pity her when I remember how wicked she has been; but there is a
look in her eye when she is not laughing or talking that gives me
"She is very unhappy!" replied Mabel, sighing. "And so, I doubt not,
is Winston, although he will not own it, and affects to ignore the
fact of her failing health and spirits. It is one of these miserably
delicate family complications with which the nearest of kin cannot
meddle. They are very kind to me, and I think my visits have been a
comfort to Clara. The solitude of the great house is a terrible
trial to one so fond of company. For days together sometimes she
does not exchange a word with anybody except the servants. It is a
dreary, wretched evening of an ambitious life. I ventured to tell
Winston, last week, that this wonld probably be my last visit to
Ridgeley, since I was to be married next month.
"To Mr. Chilton, I suppose?" he said.
I answered, "Yes!"
"You must be almost forty," he next remarked. "You have worn
passably well, but you are no longer young."
"I am thirty-seven!" said I.
"Well!" he answered. "Yon are certainly old enough to know your own
"That was all that passed. But I was glad to remember, as I looked
at his whitening hair and bowed shoulder, that Frederic had not--as
I was foolish enough to suppose for a while--told him the story that
had blighted his life. Not that I could have blamed him had he done
this. He had endured so much obloquy, suffered so keenly and so
long, that almost any retaliatory measure would have been
Herbert Dorrance's widow was, as had been said, on a farewell visit
to her native State, and after spending a week at Ridgeley was
concluding a pleasanter sojourn of the same length at William
Sutton's. In another month her home in Philadelphia was to be the
refuge of her aunt's declining years--a prospect that delighted her
as much as it afflicted those among whom this most benevolent and
lovable of match-makers had dwelt during Mabel's first marriage.
The marriage it was now her constant purpose to forget--not a
difficult task in the happiness that diffused an Indian summer glow
over her maturity of years and heart. After Herbert's death she had
continued to reside in Albany, devoting herself--so soon as she
recovered from the fatigue of mind and body consequent upon her
severe and protracted duties as nurse--to the scarcely less painful
work of attending his mother, who had contracted the seeds of
consumption in the bleak sea-air of Boston. Grateful for an abode in
the house of one who performed a daughter's part to her when her own
children were content to commit her to the care of hirelings, the
old lady lingered six months, and died, blessing her benefactress
and engaging, in singleness of belief in the affection his wife had
borne him, "to tell Herbert how good she had been to his mother."
None of the Dorrances could wag a tongue against their
sister-in-law, when, at the expiration of her year of widowhood, she
wrote to them, to announce her "re-engagement" to Frederic Chilton.
She had been a faithful wife to their brother in sickness and
imbecility; a ministering angel to their parent, and there was now
no tie to bind her to their interest. They had a way of taking care
of themselves, and it was not surprising if she had learned it.
They behaved charmingly--this pair of elderly lovers--said the young
Suttons when Mr. Chilton arrived to escort his affianced back to
Albany on the day succeeding the conversation from which I have
taken the foregoing extracts, while Aunt Rachel's deaf old face was
one beam of gratification.
"All my matches turn out well in the long run!" she boasted, with
modest exultation. "I don't undertake the management of them, unless
I am very sure that they are already projected in Heaven. And when
they are, my loves, a legion of evil spirits or, what is just as
bad, of wicked men and women, cannot hinder everything from coming
right at last."
While she was relating, in the same sanguinely pious spirit, the
tales that most entrance young girls, and at which their seniors
smile in cynicism, or in tender recollection, as their own lives
have contradicted or verified her theory of love's teachings and
love's omnipotence, Frederic and Mabel, forgetting time and care,
separation and sorrow, in the calm delight of reunion, were
strolling upon the piazza in the starlight of a perfect June
They stopped talking by tacit consent, by and by, to listen to Amy
Sutton, a girl of eighteen, the vocalist of the flock, who was
testing her voice and proficiency in reading music at sight by
trying one after another of a volume of old songs which belonged to
This was the verse that enchained the promenaders' attention:
"But still thy name, thy blessed name,
My lonely bosom fills;
Like an echo that hath lost itself
Among the distant hills.
That still, with melancholy note,
Keeps faintly lingering on,
When the joyous sound that woke it first
Is gone--forever gone!"
"It is seventeen years since we heard it together, dearest!" said
Frederic, bending to kiss the tear-laden eyes. "And I can say to you
now, what I did not, while poor Rosa lived, own to myself--that, try
to hush it though I did, in all that time the lost echo was never
Her answer was prompt, and the sweeter for the blent sigh and smile
which were her tribute to the Past, and greeting to the Future:
"An echo no longer, but a continuous strain of of heart music!"
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