Catherine A. Warfield
Part 1 out of 9
Produced by Curtis Weyant, Charles Aldarondo and PG Distributed
[Transcriber's note: Part III contains two chapters labeled Chapter VI.]
BY THE AUTHOR OF
"THE HOUSEHOLD OF BOUVERIE."
"Fancy, _with_ fact, is just one fact the more."
"Let this old woe step on the stage again,
Act itself o'er anew for men to judge;
Not by the very sense and sight indeed,
Which take at best imperfect cognizance.
Since, how heart moves brain, and how both move hand,
What mortal ever in entirety saw?
Yet helping us to all we seem to hear,
For, how else know we save by worth of word?"
BROWNING, "_The Ring and the Book_"
D. APPLETON AND COMPANY,
549 & 551 BROADWAY.
_This book is dedicated to the memory of one most dear, who saw it grow
to completion with pleasure and approbation, during the last happy
summer of a life since darkened by misfortune. Peace be his!_
"Not one friend have we here, not one true heart;
We've nothing but ourselves."
"There's a dark spirit walking in our house,
And swiftly will the destiny close on us.
It drove me hither from my calm asylum;
It lures me forward--in a seraph's shape
I see it near, I see it nearer floating--
It draws, it pulls me with a godlike power,
And, lo, the abyss! and thither am I moving;
I have no power within me--but to move."
"He is the only one we have to fear, he and his father."
COLERIDGE'S _Translation of Schiller's "Wallenstein"_
* * * * *
My father, Reginald Monfort, was an English gentleman of good family,
who, on his marriage with a Jewish lady of wealth and refinement,
emigrated to America, rather than subject her and himself to the
commentaries of his own fastidious relatives, and the incivilities of a
clique to which by allegiance of birth and breeding he unfortunately
Her own family had not been less averse to this union than the
aristocratic house of Monfort, and, had she not been the mistress of her
own acts and fortune, would, no doubt, have absolutely prevented it. As
it was, a wild wail went up from the synagogue at the loss of one of its
brightest ornaments, and the name of "Miriam Harz" was consigned to
Orphaned and independent, this obloquy and oblivion made little
difference to its object, especially when the broad Atlantic was placed,
as it soon was, between her and her people, and new ties and duties
arose in a strange land to bind and interest her feelings.
During her six years of married life, I have every reason to believe
that she was, as it is termed, "perfectly happy," although a mysterious
disease of the nervous centres, that baffled medical skill either to
cure or to name, early laid its grasp upon her, and brought her by slow
degrees to the grave, when her only child had just completed her fifth
My father, the younger son of a nobleman who traced his lineage from
Simon de Montfort, had been married in his own estate and among his
peers before he met my mother. Poor himself (his commission in the army
constituting his sole livelihood), he had espoused the young and
beautiful widow of a brother officer, who, in dying, had committed his
wife and her orphan child to his care and good offices, on a
battle-field in Spain, and with her hand he had received but little of
this world's lucre. The very pension, to which she would have been
entitled living singly, was cut off by her second marriage, and with
habits of luxury and indolence, such as too often appertain to the
high-born, and cling fatally to the physically delicate, the burden of
her expenses was more than her husband could well sustain.
Her parents and his own were dead, and there were no relatives on either
side who could be called upon for aid, without a sacrifice of pride,
which my father would have died rather than have made. He was nearly
reduced to desperation by the circumstances of the case, when,
fortunately perhaps for both, she suddenly sickened, drooped, and died,
in his absence, during her brief sojourn at a watering-place, and all
considerations were lost sight of at the time, in view of this
unexpected and stunning blow--for Reginald Monfort was devoted, in his
chivalric way, to his beautiful and fragile wife, as it was, indeed, his
nature to be to every thing that was his own. Her very dependence had
endeared her to him, nor had she known probably to what straits her
exactions had driven him, nor what were his exigencies. Perhaps (let me
strive to do her this justice, at least), had he been more open on these
subjects, matters might have gone better. Yet he found consolation in
the reflection that she had been happy in her ignorance of his affairs,
and had experienced no strict privation during their short union,
inevitably as this must later have been her portion, and certainly as,
in her case, misery must have accompanied it.
Her child, in the absence of all near relatives, became his charge, and
the little three-year-old girl, her mother's image, grew into his
closest affections by reason of this likeness and her very helplessness.
Two years after the death of his wife, he espoused my mother, a bright
and beautiful woman of his own age, with whom he met casually at a
banker's dinner in London, and who, fascinated by his Christian graces,
reached her fair Judaic hand over all lines of Purim prejudice, and
placed it confidingly in his own for life, thereby, as I have said,
relinquishing home and kindred forever.
A hundred thousand pounds was a great fortune in those days and in our
then modest republic, and this was the sum my parents brought with them
from England--a heritage sufficiently large to have enriched a numerous
family in America, but which was chiefly centred on one alone, as will
My father, a proud, shy, fastidious man, had always been galled by the
consciousness of my mother's Israelitish descent, which she never
attempted to conceal or deny, although, to please his sensitive
requisitions, she dispensed with most of its open observances. That she
clung to it with unfailing tenacity to the last I cannot doubt, however,
from memorials written in her own hand--a very characteristic one--and
from the testimony of Mrs. Austin, her faithful friend and
attendant--the nurse, let me mention here, of my father's little
step-daughter during her mother's lifetime, and her brief orphanage, as
well as of his succeeding children.
Stanch in his love of church and country, we, his daughters, were all
three christened, and "brought up," as it is termed, in the Episcopal
Church, and early taught devotion to its rites and ceremonies. Yet, had
we chosen for ourselves, perhaps our different temperaments might, even
in this thing, have asserted themselves, and we might have embraced
sects as diverse as our tastes were several. I shall come to this third
sister presently, of whom I make but passing mention here. She was our
flower, our pearl, our little ewe-lamb--the loveliest and the last--and
I must not trust myself to linger with her memory now, or I shall lose
the thread of my story, and tangle it with digression.
With my Oriental blood there came strange, passionate affection for all
things sharing it, unknown to colder organizations--an affection in
whose very vitality were the seeds of suffering, in whose very strength
was weakness, perhaps in whose very enjoyment, sorrow. I have said my
mother died of an insidious and inscrutable malady, which baffled friend
and physician, when I was five years old. She had been so long ill, so
often alienated from her household for days together, that her death was
a less terrible evil, less suddenly so, at least, than if each morning
had found her at her board, each evening at the family hearth, and
every hour, as would have been the case in health, occupied with her
My father's grief was stern, quiet, solitary; ours, unreasonable and
noisy, but soon over as to manifestation. Yet I must have suffered more
than I knew of, I think, for then occurred the first of those strange
lethargies or seizures that afterward returned at very unequal intervals
during my childhood and early youth, and which roused my father's fears
about my life and intellect itself, and gave me into the hands of a
physician for many years thereof, vigorous, and healthy, and intelligent
otherwise as I felt, and seemed, and _was_.
It was soon after the first settling down of tribulation in our
household to that flat and almost unendurable calm or level that
succeeds affliction, when a void is felt rather than expressed, and when
all outward observances return to their olden habit, as a car backs
slowly from a switch to its accustomed grooves, that a new face appeared
among us, destined to influence, in no slight degree, the happiness of
all who composed the family of Reginald Monfort.
It was summer. The house in which we lived was partly finished in the
rear by wide and extensive galleries above and below, shaded by movable
_jalousies;_ and, on the upper one of these, that on which our
apartments opened, my father had caused a hammock to be swung, for the
comfort and pleasure of his children. With one foot listlessly dragging
on the floor of the portico so as to propel the hammock, and lying
partly on my face while I soothed my wide-eyed doll to sleep, I lay
swaying in childish fashion when I heard Evelyn's soft step beside me,
accompanied by another, firmer, slower, but as gentle if not as light. I
looked up: a sweet face was bending over me, framed in a simple cottage
bonnet of white straw, and braids of shining brown hair.
The eyes, large, lustrous, tender, of deepest blue, with their black
dilated pupils, I shall never forget as they first met my own, nor the
slow, sad smile that seemed to entreat my affectionate acquaintance. The
effect was immediate and electric. I sat up in the hammock, I stretched
out my hands to receive the proffered greeting, and then remained
silently, child-fashion, surveying the new-comer.
"Kiss me," she said, "little Miriam. Have they not told you of me? I am
Constance Glen--soon to be your teacher."
"Then I think I shall learn," I made grave reply, putting away the thick
curls from my eyes and fixing them once more steadily on the face of the
new-comer. "Yes, I _will_ kiss you, for you look good and pretty. Did my
mother send you here?"
"She is a strange child, Miss Glen," I heard Evelyn whisper. "Don't mind
her--she often asks such questions."
"Very natural and affecting ones," Miss Glen observed, quietly, and the
tears sprang to her violet eyes, at which I wondered. Yet, understanding
not her words, I remembered them for later comprehension; a habit of
childhood too little appreciated or considered, I think, by older
She had not replied to my question, so I repeated it eagerly. "Did my
dear mother send you to me?" I said. "And where is she now?"
"No, tender child! I have not seen your mother. She is in heaven, I
trust; where I hope we shall all be some day--with God. _He_ sent me to
you, probably--I fancy so, at least."
"Then God has got good again. He was very bad last week--very wicked;
he killed our mother," whispering mysteriously.
"He is never bad, Miriam, never wicked; you must not say such things--no
"But I am _not_ a Christian, Mrs. Austin says; only a Jew. Did you ever
hear of the Jews?"
Evelyn laughed, Mrs. Austin frowned, but Miss Glen was intensely grave,
as she rejoined:
"A Jew may be very good and love God. That is all a little child can
know of religion. Yet we must all believe God and His Son were one." The
last words were murmured rather than spoken--almost self-directed.
"Is His Son a little boy, and will he be fond of my mother?" I asked.
"Will she love him too? Oh, she loved me so much, so much!" and, in an
agony of grief, I caught Miss Glen around the neck, and sobbed
convulsively on her sympathetic breast. Again Evelyn smiled, I suppose,
for I heard Miss Glen say, rebukingly:
"My dear Miss Erle, you must not make light of your little sister's
sufferings. They are very severe, I doubt not, young as she is. All the
more so that she does not know how to express them."
Revolving these words, I came later to know their import. They seemed
unmeaning to me at the time, but the kind and deprecating tone of voice
in which they were conveyed was unmistakable, and that sufficed to
"And now, Miriam, let me go to my room and take off my bonnet and shawl,
for I am going to stay with you. Perhaps you will show me the way
yourself," she said, pausing. "Bring Dolly, too;" and we walked off
hand-in-hand together to the large, commodious chamber Mrs. Austin
pointed out as that prepared for our governess. I recognized my affinity
from that hour.
There, sitting on her knee, with her gentle hand on my hair, and her
sweet eyes fixed on mine, I learned at once to love Miss Glen, or
"Constance," as she made us call her, because her surname seemed
over-formal. She wished us to regard her as an elder sister, she said,
rather than mere instructress, deeming rightly that the law of love
would prove the stronger and better guidance in our case, and
understanding well, and by some line magnetic sympathy as it appeared,
my own peculiar nature, to which affection was a necessity.
Ours was a peaceful and happy childhood under her gentle and fostering
rule; and, when it ceased, all the wires of life seemed jangled and
She lived with us three years as friend and teacher. At the end of that
time her vocation and sphere of action were enlarged, not changed, for
she married my father, and thus our future welfare seemed secured.
Alas for human foresight! Alas for affection powerless to save! Alas for
the vanity of mortal effort to contend with Fate!
Our home was in one of the chief Northern cities of that great republic
which has for so many years commanded the admiration, respect, and
wonder, of the whole world. The house we occupied was situated in the
old and fashion-forsaken portion of the city. From its upper windows a
view of the majestic Delaware and its opposite shores was afforded to
the spectator; and the grounds surrounding the mansion were spacious for
those of a city-house, and deeply shaded by elms that had been lofty
trees in the time of General Washington.
Four squares farther on, the roar of commerce swelled and surged, in
storehouse and counting-room, on mart and shipboard and quay; but here
all was quiet, calm, secluded, as in the country, miles beyond.
Two houses besides our own shared the whole square between them, though
ours, the central one, possessed the largest inclosure, and was the
finest residence of the three, architecturally speaking; and the inmates
of these dwellings, with very few exceptions, constituted for years our
whole circle of friends and visitors.
So it will be seen how secluded was the life we led, how narrow the
sphere we moved in, despite our acknowledged wealth, which, with some
other attributes we possessed, had not failed, if desired, to confer on
us both power and position in the society we shunned rather than shared.
To my father's nature, however, retirement was as essential as routine.
He was one of those outwardly calm and inwardly excitable and nervous
people we sometimes encounter without detecting the fire beneath the
marble, the ever-burning lamp in the sarcophagus, unless we lift the lid
of rock to find it--an effort scarcely worth the making in any case, for
at best it lights only a tomb.
Extremely mild and self-contained in manner, and chary of opinion and
expression, he was at the same time a man of strong and implacable
prejudices and even bitter animosities when once engendered. I do not
think his affections kept pace with these. He loved what belonged to
him, it is true, in a quiet, consistent way, and his good breeding and
practised equanimity were alone sufficient to secure the peace, and even
happiness, of a household; but of much effort or self-sacrifice I judge
him to have been incapable.
He was a handsome man in his stiff and military way--well made, tall,
commanding in figure and in demeanor, stately in movement. His features
were regular, his teeth and hair well preserved, especially the first,
his hands and feet aristocratically small and shapely, his manner
vaguely courteous. He was a shy rather than reserved person, for, when
once the ice was broken, his nature bubbled over very boyishly at times,
and his confidence, once bestowed, was irrevocable. Like most men of his
temperament, he was keenly susceptible to deferential flattery, and
impatient of the slightest infraction of his dignity, which he guarded
punctiliously at all points. It was more this disposition always to wait
for overtures from others, and to slightly repel their first
manifestations, from his inveterate shyness, than any settled
determination on his part, that made him such an alien from general
association. Nervous, fastidious, exacting--what had he in common with
the texture of the new society in which he found himself, and what right
had he to fancy himself neglected where the "go-ahead" principle alone
was recognized, and time was esteemed too precious to waste in ceremony?
Yet this injured feeling pursued him through life and made one of his
peculiarities, so that he drew more and more closely, as years passed
on, into his own shell, which may be said to have comprised his
household, his comforts, his hobbies, and his narrow neighborhood, in
which he was idolized, and the sympathy of which was very soothing to
his fastidious pride.
Nothing so fosters haughtiness and egotism as a sphere like this, and it
may be doubted whether the crowned heads of the world receive more
adulation from their households than men so situated.
From the moment he set his foot on the threshold of his own house, nay,
on the broad, quiet pavement of his own street, with its stately row of
ancient Lombardy poplars on one side, and blank, high-walled lumber-yard
on the other, he felt himself a sovereign--king of a principality! king
of a neighborhood;--what great difference is there, after all?
It was only the hypochondriacal character of his mind that shielded him
from that chief human absurdity, pomposity. He needed all the praise and
consolation his friends could bestow simply to sustain him--no danger of
inflation in his case! He was shut away from self-complacency (the only
vice to which virtue is subjected) by the melancholy that permeated his
being, and which was probably in his case an inheritance--constitutional,
as it is said to be with things.
Perhaps it will be well to give, in this place, some more vivid idea of
our home, which, after all, like the shell of the sea-fish, most
frequently shapes itself to fit the necessities and habits of its
Our house had been built in early times, and was essentially
old-fashioned, like the part of the city in which it was situated.. My
father, soon after his arrival in America, had fancied and purchased
this gloomy-looking gray stone edifice, with its massive granite steps
(imported at great cost, before the beautiful white-marble quarries had
been developed which abound in the vicinity of, and characterize the
dwellings of, that rare and perfect city), and remodelled its interior,
leaving the outside front of the building, with its screens of ancient
ivy, untouched and venerable, and changing only the exterior aspect of
the back of the mansion. Very striking was the contrast between the rear
and front and exterior and interior of "Monfort Hall," as it was
The dark panel-work within had all been rent away, to give place to
plaster glossy as marble, or fine French papers, gilded and painted, or
fresco-paintings done with great cost and labor, and indifferent
success. The lofty ceilings and massive walls formed outlines of
strength and beauty to the large and well-ventilated apartments, which
made it easy to render them almost palatial by the means of such
accessories and appliances as wealth commands, and which were lavished
in this instance.
The back of the house was, however, truly picturesque. Here a bay window
was judiciously thrown out; there a portico appended or hanging balcony
added to break the gray expanse of wall or sullen glare of windows; and
a small gray tower or belfry, containing a clock that chimed the hours,
and a fine telescope, rose from the octagon library which my father had
built for his own peculiar sanctum after my mother's death, and which
formed an ell to the building. The green, grassy, deeply-shadowed lawn
lay behind the mansion, sloping down into a dark, deep dell, across
which brawled a tiny brook long since absorbed by the thirsty earth
thrown out from many foundations of stores and tenements and great
warehouses hard by; a dell where once roses, lilacs, guelder-globes, and
calacanthus-bushes, grew with a vigor that I have nowhere seen
It was not much the fashion then to have rare garden-flowers. Our
conservatory contained a fair array of these, but we had beds of tulips,
hyacinths, and crocuses, basking in the sunshine, and violets and lilies
lying in the shadow such as I see rarely now, and which cost us as
little thought or trouble in their perennial permanence, whereas the
conservatory was an endless grief and care, although superintended by a
thoroughly-taught English gardener, and kept up at unlimited expense.
My sister--for so I was taught to call Evelyn Erle--revelled in this
floral exclusiveness, but to me the dear old garden was far more
delightful and life-giving. I loved our sweet home-flowers better than
those foreign blossoms which lived in an artificial climate, and
answered no thrilling voice of Nature, no internal impulse in their
hot-house growth and development. What stirred me so deeply in April,
stirred also the hyacinth-bulb and the lily of the valley deep in the
earth--warmth, moisture, sunshine and shadow, and sweet spring rain--and
the same fullness of life that throbbed in my veins in June called forth
the rose. There was vivid sympathy here, and I gave my heart to the
garden-flowers as I never could do to the frailer children of the
hot-house, beautiful as they undeniably are.
"Miriam has really a _vulgar_ taste for Nature, as Miss Glen calls it,"
Evelyn said one day, with a curl of her slight, exquisite lip as she
shook away from her painted muslin robe, the butter-cups, heavy with
moisture and radiant with sunshine, which I had laid upon her knee. "She
ought to have been an Irish child and born, in a hovel, don't you think
so, papa?" and she put me aside superciliously. Dirt and Nature were
synonymous terms with her.
My father smiled and laid down his newspaper, then looked at me a little
gravely as I stood downcast by Evelyn.
"You _are_ getting very much sunburnt, Miriam, there is no doubt of
that. A complexion like yours needs greater care for its preservation
than if ten shades fairer. Little daughter, you must wear your bonnet,
or give up running in the garden in the heat of the day."
"I try to impress this on Miriam all the time," said Mrs. Austin,
coming as usual to aid in the assault, "but she is so hard-headed, it is
next to impossible to make her mindful of what I tell her. Miss Glen is
the only one that seems to have any influence over her nowadays." She
said this with a slight, impatient toss of the head, as she paused in
her progress through the room with a huge jar of currant-jelly, she had
been sunning in the dining-room window, poised on the palm of either
hand, jelly that looked like melted rubies, now to be consigned to the
"Well, well, we must have patience," was the rejoinder. "She is
young--impulsive (I wish she were more like you, Evelyn, my dear!), her
mother over again in temperament, without the saving clauses of beauty
and refinement; these she will never attain, I fear, and with much of
the characteristic persistence of that singular race, which in my wife,
however, I never detected, though so much nearer the fountain-head!"
This was said half in soliloquy, but Evelyn replied to it as if it had
been addressed to her--replied, as she often did, by an interrogatory.
"What tribe did her mother belong to, papa?"
"The tribe of Judah, I believe, my love, was that her family traced
their lineage from; but you question as if it were Pocahontas there was
reference to instead of a high-bred Jewish lady!" speaking with
"I meant no offence, papa, I assure you," said Evelyn, quietly; "I only
asked for information. Certainly there _is_ something very grand in
being related to King David."
"There is, indeed," said a gentle voice close at hand. Miss Glen had
entered silently as they were speaking. "There was genius in that
strain of blood, Evelyn, nay, more, divinity. Christ claimed such
descent. Let us never forget that! He, the universal brother." She spoke
with feeling and dignity, and led me away, lecturing me greatly as she
did so for not obeying Mrs. Austin as to the sun-bonnet bondage, which
she promised; to make as light as possible by purchasing for me a new
French contrivance called a _caleche_, light and airy and sheltering all
I was seven years old then, and the understanding was complete between
us that endured to the end, but as yet there was no foreshadowing of her
marriage with my father.
She had been engaged, when she came to us, to a gentleman, who must have
perished at sea soon afterward--a young naval officer who had gone out
on board of the United States sloop-of-war Hornet, the fate of which
vessel is still wrapped in mystery, though that it foundered suddenly
seemed then, as now, the universal opinion. Miss Glen some time before
had made up her mind to this, and was stemming a tide of grief with
great fortitude and resolution, while she was laying the foundations of
character and education in her two very opposite pupils, both of whom
she guided with equal ability.
My father was not unaware of her sufferings, I think, indeed, this
community of sorrow first attracted him toward her, and later he was
confirmed in his admiration of her womanly self-control and beauty of
character, by the development he saw in his children, the work of her
hand. That he was ever profoundly in love with her I do not believe, nor
did she pretend to any passionate regard for him. Respect, friendship,
confidence, mutual esteem, were the foundations of their union, which
certainly promised enduring happiness to all concerned, and which was
looked on with favor by the whole household, not excepting Mrs. Austin
"If any successor of your dear mother _must_ come, Evelyn," I heard her
say one day to my sister, "we had better have her we know, to be sure,
than a mere stranger, but I _must_ say I can't see why your papa does
not content himself as he is. I am sure he seems very happy in his
library and his greenhouse, and driving out in his Tilbury, or with you
two young ladies in the coach of afternoons, and chatting and smoking of
evenings with Mr. Bainrothe or old Mr. Stanbury. I should think he might
have had enough of marrying by this time, and funerals and all that.
Your own precious mamma first, an earl's own daughter (Evelyn Erle,
never forget that, if your father _was_ a poor soldier! you have grand
relations in England, child, if you are not as rich as some others I
could name), and then your mother and Miriam's, Miss Harz that was, such
an excellent woman for all her persuasion, to be sure; better than some
Christians, I must say; and she just three years and a half laid in her
grave!" A doleful sigh gave emphasis to this remark. "I was never more
surprised, I must confess, than when he sent for me last night to tell
me he was to marry Miss Glen next week! Who is she, I wonder, Evelyn;
did you ever hear her speak of her kinfolks? Not a soul except two or
three of her church-people has been near her since she has been here,
and Franklin says she very seldom gets letters." A pinch of snuff
emphasized this remark.
"I heard her say she had only one brother, Mrs. Austin, and that he was
in some distant part of the world, in India, or New Orleans, or some
such place, she does not know herself exactly where. He is a young lad,
and she grieves about him; his picture is most beautiful, I think. He
ran off and went to sea, and it almost killed her. That was some years
ago, and since then she has been teaching in a great school until she
came to us, and was never so peaceful before, she says, as she is now. I
think she will make papa happy too, and keep him in his own family,
since she has none of her own. I was so afraid it was Mrs. Stanbury at
"I never thought of that," said Mrs. Austin, starting. "What put it into
your head, Evelyn, and what made you so close-mouthed about it? Child,
you have an old head on young shoulders--I always said so; as like your
own precious mother as two peas. Yes, that would have been a nice
connection truly! The two young Stanburys forsooth, to divide every
thing with you and Miriam, and her rigid economy the rule in the house,
and Norman riding over every one on a high horse, and that lame brat to
be nursed and waited on! Any thing better than that, Evelyn. You are
right, my dear." And she tapped her suggestive snuffbox.
My elder sister was about thirteen years old when she uttered those
oracular sentences which elicited Mrs. Austin's commendations, and her
own clear-sighted _prevoyance;_ and I, at eight, whose mind was turned
to any subject save that of marrying and giving in marriage, stood
confounded by her superior wisdom and discretion. I gazed upon her
open-mouthed and wide-eyed as she spoke, drinking in every word, yet
very little enlightened, after all, by her remarks. She turned suddenly
upon me, and tapped my cheek slightly with her fan. It was a way she had
of manifesting contempt.
"Now run and tell Mrs. Stanbury every word I have spoken, just as soon
as you can, Miriam, do you hear? Don't forget one syllable, that's a
darling. Come, rehearse!"
"Won't it do after dinner, sister Evelyn?" I asked, gravely and
literally. "I want to go and see about my mole, now--my poor mole that
Hodges wounded with his spade this morning. It suffers so
dreadfully!"--clasping my hands in a tragic manner, not unusual with me
"There! what did I tell you, Mrs. Austin? You will believe my report of
Miriam another time--little blab! There is nothing safe where she is,
and as to keeping a secret, she could not do it if her own life were at
stake, I verily believe."
"I _can_ keep a secret," I said, fiercely, "you know I can! You burnt my
finger in the candle to make me tell you where the squirrel was, and I
would not do it; Now, miss, remember that, and tell the truth next
"What a little spit-fire," said Evelyn, derisively. "You see for
yourself, Mrs. Austin."
"O Evelyn, Evelyn, did you, do that?" moaned the good woman. "Your
little sister's hand! To burn it so cruelly, and in cold blood. I would
not have believed it of you, my Evelyn--that was not like your mamma at
all," and she shook her head dolefully. "Miriam is a brave child, after
all." A wonderful admission for her to make.
"If you believe every thing that limb of the synagogue tells you, Mrs.
Austin, you will have a great deal to swallow, that is all I shall say
on the subject," and she turned away derisively.
"Do you mean to deny it, then, Evelyn Erle?" asked Mrs. Austin,
earnestly, laying her hand on her arm, and shaking her slightly as she
was about to leave the room. "Come back and answer me. I hope Miriam is
only angry--I hope you did _not_ do this thing."
"I will not be forcibly detained by any old woman in America," said
Evelyn, struggling stoutly, "nor questioned either about a pack of fibs.
Miriam knows better than to tell such stories--or ought to be taught
"It was no story," I said, solemnly. "It was true. You did burn my
finger, and begged me not to tell Constance or papa afterward, and I
never told them, because I never break my word if I can help it, and I
wouldn't have told Mrs. Austin (but I didn't _promise_ about her, you
know), only you twitted me so meanly, and made me so mad--and it all
came out. For I can keep a secret! I know where that squirrel is now,
Evelyn Erle, but I will never tell any one--never--not even Constance
Glen. I promised myself that, and crossed my heart about it when you
tried to cut off its tail--its pretty, bushy tail that God gave it to
keep the flies off with."
Mrs. Austin was shedding tears by this time; Evelyn's insolence and
duplicity had stung her to the quick, and she saw, with real concern,
that I had justice on my side. She had relinquished her hold on Evelyn,
who stood now sullenly glaring at me, pale as a sheet, her eyes white
with rage, looking like heated steel, her lips trembling with passion.
"You _shall_ tell me where that squirrel is, or I will appeal to papa,"
she said, sharply. "It was mine. Norman Stanbury said so when he brought
it here and gave it to me. You heard him, little cheat!"
"He told me to feed it, and take care of it, and not let it get hurt, if
he did give it to you," I replied, doggedly, "and I did what he told me.
You are a born tyrant, Evelyn. Constance told you so a month ago, when
you twisted Laura Stanbury's arm for not teaching you that puzzle; and
there is a wicked word I know that suits you to-day, only I am afraid to
say it--Constance would be angry--but it begins with an L and ends with
an R, and has only four letters in it. There, now!"
I well deserved the slap, no doubt, that rang down with such lightning
speed and force on my cheek, and, fortunately, Mrs. Austin arrested my
panther-like spring toward Evelyn, or the nails I held in rest might
have brought blood from her waxen face, and marred its symmetry for a
season. As it was, I screamed wildly, until Miss Glen came in, attracted
by my cries, and, receiving no satisfactory explanation as to their
cause, led me to her own apartment to compose, question, and rebuke me
in that firm but gentle manner that ever calmed my spirit like oil
poured upon troubled waters. The end of the matter was that, when I met
Evelyn again, I went up to her in a spirit of conciliation, and mutely
kissed her as a sign of peace and penitence.
It was a matter of indifference to me that this advance was carelessly
received, since it satisfied my conscience and her who stirred its
depths--nor did my cheek flush at the derisive taunt that followed me
from the room after this obligation to self was discharged--"Now tattle
again, little prophetess," for thus she often alluded to my Hebrew name
and its signification, "and produce my squirrel, or look well to your
This threat was not without its effect. In a deep, leafy covert I
concealed my poor dying patient, "earthy, and of the earth"--literally,
in every sense--but the squirrel still enjoyed its sequestered home on
the topmost branch of an English walnut-tree, from which it cheerfully,
but cautiously, descended at my call when I went out to carry it
almonds or filberts from the dessert (invariably served with wine to my
father, who, in observance of his English custom, sat alone some moments
after the ladies of his household had withdrawn from table), nor did
Evelyn have the despotic pleasure of abbreviating his right of tail.
My father's marriage was solemnized very quietly in that old gray church
with its fairy chime of bells, all alive on that occasion, which stood
in the busy street not far from our quiet house. An aged and reverend
bishop, who had administered the sacred communion to Washington and his
wife when the city we dwelt in had been the temporary residence of that
chief, performed the ceremony, which, with the exception of my father's
immediate household and neighbors, none were invited to witness. When
the solemn rite was ended, I made my way to Constance, so fair that day
in her pearl-gray robes and simple white bonnet, and clasped her hand.
She stooped down and kissed me many times, to conceal her tears,
"Call me mamma now, dearest," she said, at last; "and let the name be as
a new compact between us. Now let Evelyn come to me, my love, she, too,
is my daughter; and go with Mrs. Austin."
I did as she directed, grasping Mrs. Austin's hand tightly as we walked
home, and proceeding at so brisk a pace that she was often obliged to
"Poor child, why should you rejoice so?" she said, mournfully. "Don't
you know you have lost your father from this hour? Do you suppose he
will ever love you as well again--you or Evelyn? Poor, ignorant,
sacrificed babes in the woods!"
"I don't care," I said. "I have got my new mamma to love me, even if he
does not. 'Mamma--mamma Constance!' how pretty that sounds. Oh, that is
what I shall always call her from this time--'Constance,' as usual, you
know, with 'mamma' before it." And I kept repeating "mamma Constance,"
"Foolish thing," she rejoined. "I wish you had your sister Evelyn's
consideration; but at any rate," she murmured, "the money will be all
yours. He cannot alienate that; yours by marriage contract, not even to
divide with Evelyn, and" (elevating her voice) "that you will surely do
hereafter, will you not, Miriam?"
"I don't know," I replied; "not unless she is good to me and stops
calling me 'little Jew,' and other mean, disagreeable names. But I
always thought Evelyn was the rich one until now. She has so many fine
clothes, and such great relations, you say, in England."
"True, true, gentle blood is a fine heritage; but your mother had great
store of gold, and, when your papa dies, all this will belong to you (it
is time you should know this, Miriam), and you will have us all to take
care of and support; so you must be very good, indeed."
"I am so sorry," I said, with a deep sigh and a feeling that a heavy
burden had been thrown suddenly on my shoulders; "but I tell you what I
will do" (brightening up), "I will give it every bit to mamma, and she
will support us all. She will live much longer than papa, because she is
so much younger--twenty years, I believe. Isn't that a great
"Your father will outlive me, child, I trust, should such a state of
things ever come to pass; but I am old, and shall not cumber the earth
long," and a groan burst from her lips.
"How old _are_ you, Mrs. Austin?" I asked, with a feeling of awe
creeping over me, as though I had been talking to the widow of
Methuselah, and I looked up into her face, pityingly.
"Fifty-five years old, child, come next Michaelmas, and a miserable
sinner still, in the eyes of my Lord! I was a widow when I went to hire
with Mrs. Erle, Evelyn's lady mother--that was soon after she married
the captain, who had only his sword--and I have lived with her and hers
ever since, and served them faithfully, I trust, and I hope I do not
deserve to be cast on strangers and upstarts in my old age, even if one
of them happens to marry your father. Constance Glen, forsooth!" and she
drew up her stiff figure.
"To be wicked and old must be _so_ dreadful," I said, thoughtfully
shaking my head and casting my eyes to heaven.
"What are you thinking about, child?" she asked, jerking my hand
sharply. "Who is it that you call such hard names--'wicked and old'
forsooth? Answer me directly!"
"It was what you said a while ago about yourself I was thinking of, Mrs.
Austin," I replied. "To be more than half a hundred years old! It is so
many years to live; and then to be such a sinner, too--how hard it must
be! I always thought you were very good before; and I am sure you are
not gray and wrinkled and blear-eyed, like Granny Simpson!"
"Granny Simpson, indeed! You must be crazy, Miriam Monfort! Why, she is
eighty if she is an hour, and hobbles on a cane! I flatter myself I am
not infirm yet; and, if you call a well-preserved, middle-aged, English
woman, like me, _old_, your brains must be addled. Look at my hair, my
teeth, my complexion"--pausing suddenly before me and confronting me
fiercely. "See my step, my figure, and have more sense, if you _are_ a
little foreign Jewish child. As to sinfulness, we are all _sinful_
beings, more or less. To be _wicked_ is a very different thing from
sinful. I never told you I was wicked, child. What put that into your
"Oh, I thought they were the same thing. Which is the worst, Mrs.
Austin?" I asked, with unfeigned simplicity.
"There, Miriam, step on before! you walk too fast anyhow for me to-day.
Besides, your tongue wags too limberly by half. You always did ask queer
questions, and will to your dying day. No help for it, I suppose, but
patience; but it is all of that Gipsy blood! Now, Evelyn's line of
people was altogether different. She has what they used to call in
England 'blue blood in her veins;' do you understand, Miriam? Blue
blood! Catch her asking indiscreet questions! Take pattern by your elder
sister, Miss Miriam Monfort, and you will do well."
Not knowing what evil I had done, or how I had offended, or how blood
could be _blue_, yet sorry for having erred, I made my way as I was told
to do, speedily and silently homeward, and was glad to find shelter from
all misunderstanding and persecution in the arms and shadow of my "mamma
Constance," as I called her from that hour.
But, to Evelyn she was "Mistress Monfort," from the time she espoused my
father; and the coldness between them (they were never very congenial)
was apparent from that time, in spite of every effort on the part of my
sweet mamma to surmount and throw it aside.
It is time I should speak of those few neighbors who composed our
society at this period, and to whom some allusion has already been
made--the occupants of those two houses which, as I have said, divided
with ours the square we lived in, with their grounds. These green-shaded
yards were divided one from the other by slender iron railings, which
formed a line of boundary, no more, and presented no obstacle to the
exploring eye. Graceful gates of the same material opened from the
pavement, common to all, and presented a symmetrical and uniform
appearance to the passer-by. Stone lions guarded ours, but Etruscan
vases crowned the portals of Mrs. Stanbury and Mr. Bainrothe, filled
with blooming plants in the summer season, but bare and desolate and
gray enough in winter.
Mrs. Stanbury, our right-hand neighbor (ay, in every way right-handed),
was a widow lady of about thirty-five years of age. Her husband had been
a sea-captain, and, being cut off suddenly, had, with the exception of
the house she lived in, left her no estate. She owed her maintenance
chiefly to the liberality of his uncle, a gruff old bachelor of sixty or
more, who lived with and took care of her and her children in a way that
was both kindly and disagreeable. He was a bald-headed man (who
flourished a stout, gold-headed cane, I remember), with a florid,
healthy, and honest face and burly figure, engaged in some lucrative
city business, and entirely devoted to his nephew and niece, Mrs.
Stanbury's only children, the one fifteen and the other about twelve
years old at the time of my father's marriage.
Strangely enough, her own deepest interest, if not affection, seemed
centred at this period in her little orphan ward and nephew, George
Gaston, a child of nine years old, who had recently come into her hands;
singularly gifted and beautiful, but lamed for life, it was feared, and
a great sufferer physically from the effects of the fatal hip-disease
that had destroyed the strength and usefulness of one limb, and impaired
Mrs. Stanbury herself was a lady-like and pretty woman, fair and
graceful, and her daughter Laura closely resembled her; both sweet
specimens of unpretending womanhood; both devoted to the discharge of
their simple duties and to one another; both entirely estimable.
Norman Stanbury was of a different type. He had probably inherited from
his father his manly and robust person, his open, dauntless, dark, and
handsome face, in which there was so much character that you hardly
looked for intellect, or perhaps at a brief glance confounded one with
the other. He was the avowed and devoted swain of my sister Evelyn, from
the time when they first chased fireflies together, up to their
dancing-school adolescence, and for me maintained a disinterested,
brotherly regard that was never slow to manifest itself in any time of
need, or even in the furtherance of my childish whims. Our relations
with this family were most friendly and agreeable. There never was any
undue familiarity; my father's reserve, and their own dignity, would of
themselves have precluded that certain precursor to the decline of
superficial friendship; but a consistent and somewhat ceremonious
intercourse was preserved from first to last, that could scarcely be
Between George Gaston and myself alone existed that perfect freedom of
speech and intuitive understanding that lie at the root of all true and
deep affection. His delicacy of appearance, his stunted stature, his
invalid requisitions, nay, his very deformity, for his twisted limb
amounted to this, put aside all thought of infantile flirtation (for we
know that, strange as it may seem, such a thing does exist) from the
first hour of our acquaintance. He always seemed to me much younger than
he was, or than I was--as boys, even under ordinary circumstances, are
apt to appear to girls of their own age, from their slower development
of mind and manner, if not of body.
But this lovely waxen boy, so frail and spiritual as to look almost
angelic, and certainly very far my superior intellectually, seemed from
his helplessness peculiarly infantile in comparison with my robust
energy, and became consequently, in my eyes, an object of tenderest
commiseration. From the first he clung to me with strange tenacity, for
our tastes were congenial. He brought with him from his Southern home
stores of books and shells and curious playthings and mechanical toys,
such as I had never seen before, and to spread these out and explain
them for my amusement was his chief delight.
My memory in turn was richly stored with poetry, some of it far above my
own comprehension, but clinging irresistibly to my mind through the
music of the metre. I had revelled in old ballads until I could recite
nearly all of these precious relics of heroic times, or rather chant
them forth monotonously enough in all probability, yet in a way that
riveted his attention forcibly, and roused his high-strung poetic
temperament to enthusiasm.
When ill or suffering, if asked what he needed for relief, he would say
"Miriam," as naturally as a thirsty man would call for a glass of clear
cold water. For his amusement I converted myself into a mime, a
mountebank. When I went to the theatre, the performance must be repeated
for his benefit, and many characters centred in one.
For him I danced the "Gavotte," the "shawl-dance," as taught to do by
Monsieur Mallet, at the great dancing-school on Chestnut Street, or
jumped Jim Crow to his infinite amusement and the unmitigated disgust of
Evelyn, to whom his physical infirmity made him any thing but
attractive. Such personal perfection as she possessed is, I am afraid,
apt to make us cold-hearted and exacting as to externals in others.
Evelyn could endure commonplace, but could not forgive a blemish. Once
Norman Stanbury came very near, losing her favor for having a wart on
his finger; another time, she banished him from her presence for weeks,
for having stained his hands, beyond the power of soap-and-water or
vinegar to efface, in gathering walnuts. Certainly no despot ever
governed more entirely through the medium of fear than did she through
the tyranny of a fastidious caprice united to a form and face of
surpassing beauty and high-bred grace.
Even my father fell under this requisitive influence of hers. Propriety,
the quality he worshipped, stood forth enshrined in her, and, from the
lifting of her fan to the laying down of her knife and fork, all was
faultless. The prestige, too, of birth, his special weakness, lingered
about her, and elevated her to a pedestal above any other inmate of his
Her mother, who married him for convenience, and whose selfish
requisitions had almost driven him mad, was the honorable Mrs. Erle, and
an earl's daughter. He had loved my mother twice as well, found her ten
times more attractive and interesting, devoted and congenial; admired
her grace, recognized all her worth, not only in deed but in word, and
with a fidelity of heart that never wavered even when he married again.
Yet the prestige of descent was wanting in her and hers, or rather,
such as it was, brought with it ignoble and repulsive associations
_only_. He was not the man to reach a hand across Shylock and the
old-clothes man, to grasp that of the poet-king of Israel; or Esther,
the avenging queen of a downtrodden nation; or Joab, strong in valor and
fidelity; or Deborah, inspired to rule a people from beneath the shelter
of her palm-tree in the wilderness.
The grandeur of the past, in his estimation, was eclipsed by the
ignominy of the present; but with me it was otherwise, and, as I grew
old enough to recognize the peculiar traits of that ancient people from
which I sprung, it pleased me to imagine that whatever there was about
me of fiery persistency, of fearless faith, of unshrinking devotion,
nay, of bitter remembrance of injuries, and power to avenge or forgive
them, as the case might be, sprang from that remarkable race who called
themselves at one time, with His permission, the chosen children of God.
I think these very characteristics of mine repelled my father and jarred
on his nervous temperament, endangering that outward calm which it was
his pride and care to preserve as necessary to high-bred demeanor, and
thus intrenching on his ideas of personal dignity. Yet, with strange
inconsistency, it was her very indulgence of these peculiarities that
inclined him most strongly to Constance Glen, and finally, I am well
convinced, determined him on making her his wife, as one well suited to
secure the welfare of his turbulent and incomprehensible child, his
"rebellious Miriam," as he sometimes called me when milder words availed
He had, as I have said, an "English" horror of scenes and excitement of
any kind. He was conservative in every way. He believed in the British
classics, and would not admit that any thing could ever equal, far less
surpass them (dreary bores that many of them are to me!). Walter Scott's
novels were the only ones of later days he ever allowed himself to read
approvingly; for, once being beguiled, against his will almost, into
sitting up late at night to finish a new work called "Pelham," he
frowned down all allusion to the book or its author ever afterward, as
derogatory to his dignity.
"Bulwer and Disraeli are literary coxcombs," he said, "who ought not to
be encouraged, and who are trying to undermine wholesome English
"O father," I ventured to observe on one occasion, "'Vivian Grey' is
splendid. It is a delightful dream, more vivid than life itself; it is
like drinking champagne, smelling tuberoses, inhaling laughing-gas,
going to the opera, all at one time, and, if you once take it in your
hand, nothing short of a stroke of lightning could rend it away, I am
convinced. Do read it, sir, to please me, and retract your
"Never," he said firmly, solemnly even, "and I counsel you, Miriam, in
turn, to seek your draughts of soul from our pure 'wells of English
undefiled,' rather than such high-flown fancies and maudlin streams as
flow from the pen of this accomplished Hebrew. There is a little too
much of the Jeremiah and Isaiah style about such extracts as I have
seen, to suit my taste."
"The idea of a Jew writing novels!" said Evelyn, derisively as she
sipped her wine.
"Or the grandest poem in the world!" added Mr. Bainrothe, who was dining
with us that day, coming to the rescue quite magnanimously as it seemed,
and for once receiving as his recompense a grateful look from the stray
lamb of the tribe of Judah, reposing quietly in a Christian fold.
"What poem do you allude to?" said Evelyn, superciliously. "'Paradise
Lost?'--Oh, I thought Milton was a Unitarian, not quite a Jew; almost as
"No, the book of Job," replied Mr. Bainrothe. "It was that I alluded
"And the Psalms," I added, breathlessly.
"Dear me," said Evelyn, "what an array of learning we have all at once!
Why, every Sunday-school child knows about the Psalms. David and Solomon
did nothing else but sing and dance, I believe."
"Irreverent, very, Evelyn," said my father, looking at her a little
severely, in spite of his own "Jeremiah" and "Isaiah" allusions. I had
never heard him check her so openly before, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
My smile of approbation provoked her, I suppose, for she pursued:
"I am so tired of having the Bible thrown at my head; you must excuse
me, papa. For my part, I find the New Testament all-sufficient. I weary
of the horrors of those Jews; worse than our Choctaw Indians, I verily
"So they were, so they were, my dear," said my father, complacently,
"but for some reasons we must always treat their memory with a certain
respect. They were God's people, remember, in the absence of a better,
and their history is written in this book, which we must all revere."
"A very great people, surely," said Mr. Bainrothe, "and destined to be
so again. Don't you think so, Miriam?"
"I don't know," I said; "I have never thought of such a possibility
before, I acknowledge, yet it is natural I should incline to my
mother's people, and I can say heartily, _I hope so_, Mr. Bainrothe."
"Then you want to see the Christian religion trampled under foot," said
Evelyn, spitefully, fixing her eyes on mine.
The blood rose hotly to my temples. "No, no, indeed! You know I do not,
Evelyn, for it is mine; but Christ died for all, Jew as well as Gentile.
Through him let us hope for change and mercy and peace on earth. When
infinite harmony prevails, the Hebrew race will find its appointed place
and level again, through one great principle."
"My idea is, that it has found its appointed place and level, and will
abide there.--But to digress, when do you expect your son, Mr.
I have anticipated by many years in giving this snatch of conversation
here. Let us go back to the time of my father's marriage, and to affairs
as they stood then, for precious are the unities.
I need not drop Mr. Bainrothe, however, and it was of him, our left-hand
neighbor, so intimately connected with our destiny, one and all, that I
was about to speak when the digression occurred which led me from the
high-road of my story.
Our "sinister neighbor," as my father laughingly called him sometimes
with unconscious truth, in reference to his _left-hand_ adjacency, was a
handsome and gentlemanly-looking man of no very particular age, or
rather in his appearance there was no criterion for decision on this
subject. His form was as slender and elastic, his step as light, his
teeth, hair, and complexion, as unexceptionable as though he had been
twenty-five; nor were there any of those signs and symptoms about him by
which the weather-wise usually measure experience and length of days.
If care had come nigh him at all, it had swept as lightly past him as
time itself. His address was invariably urbane, self-possessed,
well-bred; his voice was pleasant, his smile rather brilliant, though it
never reached his eyes, except when he sneered, which was rarely and
They glittered then with a strange cold light, those variegated orbs,
but their ordinary expression was earnest and investigatory. They were
well-cut eyes, moreover, of a yellowish-brown color, and I used to
remark as a little child--for children observe the minutiae of personal
peculiarities much more closely than their elders--that the iris of both
orbs was speckled with green and golden spots, which seemed to mix and
dilate occasionally, and gave them a decidedly kaleidoscopic effect.
His skin was clear and even florid, and his lips had the peculiarity of
turning suddenly white, or rather livid, without any evident cause. This
my father thought betokened disease of the heart, but I learned later to
know it was the only manifestation of suppressed feeling which the habit
of his life could not overcome, and that proved him still mortal and
He had bought and moved into the house he occupied, in his single
estate, with a few efficient servants, soon after my father had taken
possession of his own larger mansion, and it was not long before the
best understanding existed between these two. My father's _hauteur_ was
no safeguard against the steady and self-poised approaches--his shyness
found relief in the calm self-reliance of his "left-hand" neighbor; and,
as they were both lovers of books, rather than students thereof, a
congeniality of tastes on literary subjects drew them together in those
hours of leisure which Mr. Bainrothe usually passed in his own or my
father's library, in the cultivation of the _dolce far niente_--I beg
What his occupation was, if indeed he had any worthy of a definite name,
I never knew. That he was a kind of intermediate agent or broker I have
since suspected. His leisure seemed infinite. He came and went to and
from the business part of the city several times a day, and often in the
elegant barouche he kept, with its span of highly-groomed horses and
respectable-looking negro driver in simple livery--an old retainer of
his house, as he informed my father, faithful still, though freed in the
time of universal emancipation.
His association was undoubtedly, to some extent, with the best men of
the town--bankers and merchants chiefly; and once, when my father had
called in a considerable sum of money which he had loaned out at
interest on good mortgages, for a term of years, he was so obliging as
to interest the most notable bankers of the city in its safe and prompt
This gentleman dined with us on one occasion at this period, when his
conference with my father intrenched on our late dinner-hour, and I
shall never forget the singular beauty of his face and expression, nor
the charm of his manner, as he sat at our board discoursing, with an
_abandon_ and witchery I have observed in no one else, on subjects of
art and letters, on men and manners, of nations past and present, until
hours fled like moments, and time seemed utterly forgotten in the
presence of geniality and genius. Then, starting gayly and suddenly to
his feet, he remembered an engagement, and sped away so abruptly that
his visit seemed to me but a vision breaking in on the monotony of our
lives, too bright to have been lasting.
Afterward, invitations came repeatedly to my father, for his grand
dinners and _levees_, from this potentate, for he _was_ a prince and a
leader in those days of a society that, more than any other I have
known, requires such leadership to make its conventionalities available;
but these were not accepted, though appreciated and gratefully
acknowledged. Nor could Mr. Bainrothe, with all his influence over him
(that rare influence that a worldly and efficient man wields over a shy
and retiring one unacquainted with the detail of affairs, and dependent
upon active assistance in their management), prevail upon him to break
through the monotonous routine of his life so far as to accept any one
of them. His church, the theatre, when a British star appeared, his
hearth and home--these were my father's hobbies and resources. Travel
and society abroad he equally shrank from and abjured, or the presence
of strange guests in his household circle.
"I will change all this, when I grow up, Mrs. Austin," I heard Evelyn
say, one day. "We shall have parties and pleasures then, like other
people, and, instead of masters and tedious old church humdrums, Mr.
Lodore and the like, you shall see beaux and belles dashing up to this
out-of-the-way place; and I will make papa build a ballroom, and we
shall have a band and supper once a month. You know he can afford any
thing he likes of that sort, and as for me--"
"Child, it will never be," she interrupted, shaking her head gravely.
"Mr. and Mrs. Monfort" (my father was again married then) "are too much
wedded to their own ways for that, and, besides, you and Miriam will not
be ready to go out together, and the money is all hers--don't forget
that, my dear Evelyn, and _you_ must go back to England to your own, and
"That I will never do," she in turn interrupted haughtily. "Play second
fiddle, indeed, to mamma's grand relations, mean, and proud, and
presumptuous, I dare say, and full of scorn for me (a poor
army-captain's daughter), as they were for my father? No, I shall stay
here and shine to the best of my ability. The money is all papa's while
he lives, and he is still a young man, you know, and Miriam's turn will
come when mine is over. One at a time, you see. Good gracious! it would
seem like throwing away money, though, to dress up that little dingy
thing in pearls and laces. Ten to one but what she will marry that lame
imp next door as soon as she is grown, and endow him with the whole of
it--that 'little devil on two sticks,' and I must have my run before
then, of course." She laughed merrily at the conceit.
"I hear you, Evelyn Erie," I exclaimed tragically from the balcony on
which I sat, engaged, on this occasion, in illuminating, with the most
brilliant colors my paint-box afforded, a book of engravings for the
especial benefit of George Gaston. It was his private opinion that
Titian himself never painted with more skill, or gorgeous effect, than
the youthful artist in his particular employ. "I hear you, miss, and you
ought to be ashamed of yourself to talk so behind his back, of a poor,
afflicted boy like George, too good, a thousand times too good, to marry
any one, even Cinderella herself. 'The devil on two sticks,' indeed!"
"Don't preach, I pray, Miriam. You have quite a dispensation in that way
lately, I perceive. If you _must_ eavesdrop, keep quiet about it now and
hereafter, I beg."
"I was not eavesdropping," I screamed. "I have been painting out here
all the afternoon, and Mrs. Austin knows it, and so might you. You are
always accusing me of doing wrong and mean things that I would cut off
my"--hesitating for a comparison--"my curls rather than do. Let me
"Your curls, indeed!" and she came out of the window and stood on the
balcony beside me. "Do you call those tufts your curls?" taking one of
them disdainfully with the tips of her dainty fingers, then pulling it
sharply. "They make you look like a little water-dog, that's what they
do, and I am going to cut them off at once.--Bring me the scissors, Mrs.
Austin, and let me begin."
In the struggle that ensued my paints were upset, my pallet broken, and
my book drenched with the water from the glass in which I dipped my
brushes, but, as usual, Evelyn gained the victory which her superior
strength insured from the beginning, and fled from my wrath, after
holding my hands awhile, laughingly entreating mercy.
"I will kill her some day, Mrs. Austin, if she persecutes me so," I
cried, as I lay sobbing on the bed after the conflict was over. "I am
afraid of myself sometimes when she tantalizes me so dreadfully. I am
glad you held me when I got hold of the scissors; I am glad she held me
afterward. I might--I might"--I hesitated--"have stabbed her to the
heart," was in my mind, but the tragic threat faltered upon my lips.
"Pray to God, Miriam Monfort, to subdue your temper," said the
well-meaning but injudicious nurse, solemnly. "Your sister is old enough
to make sport with you whenever she likes, without such returns."
"I wish mamma was at home," I said, still sobbing. "She would not allow
me to be so treated; but it is always the way--as soon as she turns her
back, Evelyn besets me, and you look on and encourage her."
"I do no such thing," said Mrs. Austin, sharply. "You have no business
to take up cudgels for every outsider that your sister mentions, as you
do. She is afraid to speak her mind before you, for fear of a fuss."
"I hate deceit," I said, wiping my eyes; "and deceitful people, too. I
love my friends behind their backs the same as to their faces--just the
"What makes you mock Mr. Bainrothe then, and show how he minces at
table, and uses his rattan?" she asked.
"Mr. Bainrothe is not my friend; besides, I said no harm of him. I don't
love him, and never will, and he knows it."
"Were you rude enough to tell him so, Miriam?"
"No, but he understands very well. I never mimic any one I love."
"Yet you love that rough, old Mr. Gerald Stanbury, as cross as a cur.
"Yes, from my heart I love him. He is good, he is true, he is noble;
that is what he is. He has no specks in his eyes. He does not say, 'Just
so,' whenever papa opens his lips."
"O Miriam! not to like him for that!"
"No; that is just why I _don't_ like him. He has no mind of his own--or
maybe he has two minds. Mamma thinks so, I know."
"She has told you so, I suppose?"
"If she had, I would not talk about it. No, she never told me so. I
found it out myself. I know what she thinks, though, of every one, just
by looking at her."
"Then what does she think of me?" asked Mrs. Austin, sharply.
"That you are a good, dear old nurse," I said, with a sudden revulsion
of feeling, jumping up and throwing my arms about her; "only a little,
very little, bit fonder of Evelyn than me. But that is natural. She is
so much prettier and older than I am, and takes better care of her
clothes. Besides, I am cross about dressing, I know I am; and afterward
I am always so sorry."
"My Miriam always had a good heart," said Mrs. Austin, quite subdued,
and returning my embraces. "And now let me call Charity to wash and comb
and dress you before your mamma comes home. You know she always likes to
see you looking nicely. But soon you must learn to do this for yourself;
Charity will be wanted for other uses."
"I know, I know," I cried, jumping up and down; "Evelyn told me all
about it yesterday," and the flush of joy mounted to my brow. "Won't we
be too happy, Mrs. Austin, when our own dear little brother or sister
comes?" And I clasped my hands across my bare neck, hugging myself in
"I don't know, child; there's no telling. What fingers" (holding them up
wofully to the light); "every color of the rainbow! That green stain
will be very hard to get out of your nails. How careless you are,
Miriam! But, as I was saying, there's no telling what to expect from an
unborn infant. It's wrong to speculate on such uncertainties; it's
tempting Providence, Miriam. In the first place, it may be deformed, I
shouldn't wonder--that lame boy about so much--short of one leg, at
"Deformed! O Mrs. Austin! how dreadful! I never thought of that." And I
began to shiver before her mysterious suggestions.
"Or it may be a poor, senseless idiot like Johnny Gibson. _He_ comes
here for broken victuals constantly, you know, and your mamma sees him."
"Mrs. Austin, don't talk so, for pity's sake," catching at her gown
wildly; "don't! you frighten me to death."
"Or it may be (stand still directly, Miriam, and let met get this paint
off your ear)--or it may be, for aught we know or can help, born with a
hard, proud, wicked heart, that may show itself in bad actions--cruelty,
deceit, or even--" she hesitated, drearily.
"Mrs. Austin, _sha'n't_ say such things about that poor, innocent little
thing," I cried out, stamping my foot impatiently, "that isn't even
"Well, well; there's no use rejoicing too soon, that's all I mean to
say. And why _you_ should be glad, child, to have your own nose broken,
is more than I can see," with a deep and awful groan.
"For pity's sake, stop! I _am_ glad, I _will_ be glad, there now! as
glad as I please, just because I know mamma will be glad, and papa will
be glad, and George Gaston will be glad, and because I do so adore
babies, sin or no sin; I can't help what you think; I say it again, I
_do_ adore them. No, I ain't afraid of 'God's eternal anger' at all for
saying so; not a bit afraid. What does He make them so sweet for if He
does not expect us to love them dearly--His little angels on earth?
Whenever a baby passes here with its nurse, I run after it and stop it
and play with it as long as I can; and oh, I wish so often we had one of
our own here at home!" embracing myself again with enthusiasm.
"Evelyn is right; you are a very absurd child, Miriam," she said,
smiling, in spite of her efforts to keep grave; "very silly, even."
"And you are a very foolish, dear old nurse, and you _will_ love our
baby, too, won't you now?" clasping her also, zealously.
"Be still, child--here comes Charity. She will think you crazy to be
rumpling my cap in that way, and talking about such matters. You are
getting to be a perfect tomboy, Miriam! What would your papa say if he
could see you now, so dirty and disorderly--your papa, as neat as a pink
always?--Charity, what kept you so long to-day? Be quick and get Miss
Miriam's new cambric dress, and her blue sash, and her new, long, gray
kid gloves, and her leghorn hat, and white zephyr scarf. She is going to
drive out presently with her mamma and papa, and must look decent for
once in a while." After a pause she continued: "Miss Evelyn was dressed
an hour ago, and is ready at the gate now, with her leghorn flat on and
her parasol in her hand, I'll be bound," looking from the window. "There
comes Norman Stanbury home from school. That's the idea, is it?" and the
good nurse looked grave. "It will never do, it will never do in the
world," she said, as she glanced at them, then turned away, shaking her
head dolefully. "My child, my pretty piece of wax-work, must do better
than that comes to. Her blood must never mix with such as runs in the
veins of the Stanbury clan."
About a month later the feeble wail of my little sister greeted my ear
as I entered my mamma's room one morning, in obedience to her summons,
and my heart was filled with a rapture almost as great as hers who owned
this priceless treasure.
Three weeks later, very suddenly and most unexpectedly, my dear mamma
was stricken mortally as she sat, apparently quite convalescent, in her
deep chair by the cradle, smiling at and caressing her infant. Mrs.
Austin and I were alone in the room with her; papa and Evelyn had gone
out for a walk. I had just been thinking how very pretty she looked that
day in her white wrapper, with a pink ribbon at the throat, and her
little, closely-fitting lace cap, through which her rich brown hair was
distinctly visible. She had a fine oval face, clear, pallid skin, and
regular though not perfect features, and never appeared so interesting
or beautiful as now, in the joy and pride of her new maternity. Suddenly
she grew strikingly pale, gasped, stretched out her hands, fixed her
imploring eyes on me, and fell back, half fainting, in her chair.
By the time we had placed her on her bed she was insensible, breathing
hard, though with a low fluttering pulse, that kept hope alive until the
doctor came. The moment he beheld her he knew that all was over;
remedies were tried in vain. She never spoke again, and, when my father
returned an hour later, a senseless mass of snow replaced the young wife
he had left, happy and hopeful.
I was spared the first manifestations of his agony, in which
disappointment and the idea of being pursued by a relentless fate bore
so great a part, by my own condition, which rendered me insensible for
nearly thirty hours, to all that passed around me. It was afternoon when
I awoke, as if from a deep sleep, to find myself alone with Mrs. Austin
in my chamber.
Except from a sense of lassitude I experienced no unpleasant sensations,
and I found myself marveling at the causes that could have consigned me
in health to my bed and bed-gown, to my shadowed chamber and the
supervision of my faithful nurse, when the sound of suppressed yet
numerous footsteps in the hall below met my ear, and the consciousness
that something unusual was going on took possession of and quickened my
still lethargic faculties.
"What does all this mean, Mrs. Austin?" I asked at last, in a voice
feeble as an infant's, "and what are those steps below? Why am I so
weak, and what are you doing here? Answer me, I beseech you," and I
clasped my hands piteously.
"Eat your panada, Miriam, and ask no questions," she said, lifting a
bowl from above a spirit-lamp on the chimney-piece, and bearing it
toward me. "Here it is, nice and hot. The doctor said you were to take
it as soon as you awoke."
I received eagerly the nourishment of which I stood so greatly in need,
spiced and seasoned as it was with nutmegs and Madeira wine, and, as I
felt new strength return to me with the warmth that coursed through my
veins, the memory of all that had passed surged rapidly back, as a
suspended wave breaks on the strand, and with the shock I was restored
to perfect consciousness.
"I know what it all means now," I cried. "Mamma! mamma! Let me go to my
poor mamma!" and before she could arrest my steps I flew to the head of
the stairway, dressed as I was in my white bed-gown, and was about to
descend, when Dr. Pemberton stopped my progress.
"Go back, Miriam; I must see you a moment before you can go
down-stairs," he said, calmly, and with authority in his voice. "Nay,
believe me, I will not restrain you a moment longer than necessary, if
you are obedient now."
"Do you promise this?" I cried, sobbing bitterly.
"I do," and he led me gently back to Mrs. Austin, then examined my
pulse, my countenance carefully, inquired if I had taken nourishment,
gave me a few drops from a vial he afterward left on the table for use,
and, signifying his will to Mrs. Austin, went calmly but sorrowfully
from the room.
My simple toilet was speedily made. My dress consisted of a
white-cambric gown, I remember, over which Mrs. Austin bound, with some
fantastic notion of impromptu mourning, a little scarf of black _crepe_,
passing over one shoulder and below the other, like those worn by the
pall-bearers; and, so attired, she took me by the hand and led me, dumb
with amazement and grief, through the crowd that surged up the stairs
and in the hall and parlors below, into the drawing-room, where, on its
tressels, the velvet-covered coffin stood alone and still open, its
occupant waiting in marble peace and dumb patience for the last rites of
religion and affection to sanctify her repose, ere darkness and solitude
should close around her forever.
The spell that had controlled me was rent away, when I saw that sweet
and well-beloved aspect once again fixed in a stillness and composure
that I knew must be eternal, the tender eyes sealed away from mine
forever, the fine sensitive ear dull, expression obliterated! I flung
myself in a passion of grief across the coffin. I kissed the waxen face
and hands a thousand times and bathed them with scalding tears, then
stooping down to the dulled ear I whispered:
"Mamma! mamma! hear me, if your soul is still in your breast, as I
believe it is; I want to say something that will comfort you: I want to
promise you to take care of your little baby all my days and hers, to
divide all I have with her--to live for her, to die for her if such
need comes--never to leave her if I can help it, or to let any one
oppress her. Do you hear me, Mamma Constance?"
"What are you whispering about, Miriam?" said Mrs. Austin, drawing me
"There, did you see her smile?" I asked, as in my childish imagination
that sweet expression, that comes with the relaxation of the muscles to
some dead faces toward the last of earth, seemed to transfigure hers as
with an angel grace. "Her soul has not gone away yet," I murmured, "she
heard me, _she believed me_," and I clasped my hands tightly and sank on
my knees beside the coffin, devoutly thanking God for this great
"Child, child, you are mad," she said, drawing me suddenly to my feet.
"Come away, Miriam, this is no place for you; I wonder at Dr. Pemberton!
That coffin ought to be closed at once, for decay has set in; and there
is no sense in supposing the spirit in the poor, crumbling body, when
such signs as these exist," and she pointed to two blue spots on the
throat and chin.
I did not understand her then--I thought they were bruises received in
life--and wondered what she meant as well as I could conjecture at such
a time of bewilderment; but still I resolutely refused to leave my dear
one's side, sobbing passionately when Mr. Lodore came in to take me away
at last, in obedience to Dr. Pemberton's orders.
"Come, Miriam, this will never do," he said. "Grief must have its way,
but reason must be listened to as well. You have been ill yourself, and
your friends are anxious about you; if your mamma could speak to you,
she would ask you to go to your chamber and seek repose. Nay, more, she
would tell you that, for all the thrones of the earth, she would not
come back if she could, and forsake her angel estate."
"Not even to see her baby?" I asked, through my blinding tears. "O Mr.
Lodore, you must be mistaken about that; you are wrong, if you are a
preacher, for she told me lately she valued her life chiefly for its
sake; and I heard her praying one night to be spared to raise it up to
womanhood.--Mamma! mamma! you would come back to us I know, if God would
let you, but you cannot, you cannot; He is so strong, so cruel! and He
holds you fast." And I sobbed afresh, covering up my face.
"Miriam, what words are these?--Mr. Monfort, I am pleased that you have
come. It is best for your little daughter to retire; she is greatly
moved and excited;" and, yielding to my father's guidance and
persuasion, I went passively from the presence of the dead, into which
came, a moment later, the hushed crowd of her church-people and our few
private friends, assembled to witness her obsequies.
Evelyn Erie accompanied my father to the grave as one of the chief
mourners, and at my entreaty Mrs. Austin laid my little sister on the
bed by my side, and I was soothed and strengthened by the sight of her
baby loveliness as nothing else could have soothed and strengthened me.
Then, solemnly and in my own heart, I renewed the promise I had made the
dead, and as far as in me lay have I kept it, Mabel, through thy life
I roused from an uneasy sleep an hour later, to find George Gaston at my
"I have brought you this, Miriam," he said, "because I thought it might
help you to bear up. It is a little book my mother loved; perhaps you
can read it and understand it when you are older even if you cannot now.
See, there is a cross on the back, and such a pretty picture of Jesus in
the front. It is for you to _keep_ forever, Miriam. It is called Keble's
"Thank you, George," and I kissed him, murmuring, "But I do not think I
shall ever read any more," tearfully.
He, too, begged to see the baby for all recompense--his darling as well
as mine thenceforth; and I recall to this hour the lovely face of the
boy, with all his clustering, nut-brown curls damp with the clammy
perspiration incident to his debility, bending above the tiny infant as
it lay in sweet repose, with words of pity and tenderness, and tearful,
steadfast eyes that seemed filled with almost angelic solicitude and
Two guardians of ten years old then clasped hands above its downy head,
and in childish earnestness vowed to one another to protect, to cherish,
to defend it as long as life was spared to either. Hannibal was not
older than we were when he swore his famous oath at Carthage, kneeling
at the feet of Hamilcar before the altar, to hate the Romans. How was
our oath of love less solemn or impressive than his of hatred?--pledged
as it was, too, in the presence of an angel too lately freed from
earth's bondage not to hover still around her prison-house and above the
sleeping cherub she left so lately!
Such resolutions, however carried out, react on the character that
conceives them. I felt from that time strengthened, uplifted, calmed, as
I had never felt before. I learned the precious secret of patience in
watching over that baby head, and for its sake grew forbearing to all
around; toward Evelyn, even, whose taunts were so hard to bear, so
unendurable on occasions.
"There is a great change in Miriam," she said one day to Norman
Stanbury. "I believe she is getting religion, or perhaps she and George
Gaston are training themselves to go forth as married missionaries,
after a while, to the heathen. They are studying parental responsibility
already, one at the head and the other at the foot of the baby's
cradle-carriage, but I am afraid it will be but a _lame_ concern, after
We both heard this cruel speech and the laugh that succeeded it, in
passing by, as it was intended we should do, probably--heard it in
silence, and perhaps it may be said in dignity, not even a remark being
interchanged between us concerning it; but I saw George Gaston flush to
the roots of his hair.
A few minutes later we were ourselves laughing merrily over the baby's
ineffectual efforts to catch a bunch of scarlet roses which George
dangled above her head, and, altogether forgetful of Evelyn's sneer,
bumped our heads together in trying to kiss her.
In truth, my superb sense of womanhood lifted me quite above all
frivolous suggestions; thenceforth George seemed to me physically almost
as much of a baby as Mabel, and was nearly as dependent on my aid. In
his sudden fits of exhaustion and agony of such uncertain recurrence as
to render it dangerous for him to venture forth alone, he always turned
with confidence to my supporting and guiding hand.
I taught him his lessons in the intervals of my own studies, which he
recited when he could to a private teacher, the same who gave me
Evelyn preferred a public school, and was sent, at her own request, to
a fashionable establishment in the city attended by the _elite_ alone,
as the enormous prices charged for tuition indicated, as a day-boarder.
There she became proficient in mere mechanical music--her ear being a
poor one naturally--and learned to speak two languages, dance to
perfection, and conduct herself like a high-bred woman of fashion on all
occasions and in all emergencies--each and all necessities for a belle,
which, it may be remembered, she had aspired to be, and announced her
intention of becoming.
The fame of my father's wealth, her own beauty, tact, and grace, and
elegant attire, rendered her conspicuous among her school-mates, and
from among these she selected as friends such as appeared to her most
desirable as bearing on her future plans of life. So that already Evelyn
had made for herself a sphere outside and beyond any thing known in
"Monfort Hall" or its vicinity.
My father, who, like all shy persons, admired cool self-possession and
the leading hand in others, looked on with quiet approbation and some
diversion at these proceedings. He gave her the use of his equipage, his
house, his grounds, reserving to himself only intact the refuge of his
library, from which ark of safety he surveyed at leisure, with quiet,
curious, and amused scrutiny, the gay young forms that on holiday
occasions glided through his garden and conservatory, and filled his
drawing-room and halls with laughter and revelry.
On such occasions I was permitted, on certain conditions, to appear as a
spectator. One of the most imperative of these was, that I was never to
reveal to any one that Evelyn was not my own half-sister.
"You are not called upon to tell a story, Miriam, only to give them no
satisfaction. You see they might as well think part of all this wealth,
which came from your mother, is mine. It will in no way affect the
reality--only their demeanor--for they every one worship money."
"I would not care for such girls, sister Evelyn, nor what they thought,"
I rejoined. "Besides, are you not an earl's granddaughter; why not boast
of that instead, which would be the truth?"
"An earl's fiddlestick! What do you suppose American girls would care
for that? Nor would they believe it, even, unless I had diamonds and
coronet and every thing to match. Your mother had diamonds, I know, but
mine had not. By-the-by, where are they, Miriam? I have never seen
"I do not know, Evelyn," I replied, gravely. "I have never thought about
them until now, I am so sorry your heart is set upon such things. You
know what Mamma Constance used to tell us."
"Oh, yes, I remember she croaked continually, as all delicate, doomed
people do, I believe. It was well enough in her case, as she _had_ to
die; but, as for me--look at me, Miriam Monfort! Do I look like death?
No; victory, rather!" and she straightened her elastic form exultingly.
"And you, too, little one, are growing up strong and tall and
better-looking than you used to be," she continued, patting my cheek
carelessly. "The Jewish gaberdine is gradually dropping off; I mean the
dinginess of your early complexion. By the time I have had my successful
career, and am settled in life, yours will begin. Help me now, and I
will help you then."
"You are only a school-girl," I said, sententiously. "You had better be
thinking of your lessons, and let beaux and diamonds alone. I would be
ashamed to keep a key to my exercises and sums, as you do. I would
blush in the dark to do such a thing."
"I am not preparing myself for a governess, that I should make a point
of honor of such things, little pragmatical prig that you are; nor are
you, that I know of. You will always have plenty of money. 'Rich as a
Jew' is a proverb, you know, all the world over."
The taunt had long since lost its sting; so I replied, meekly:
"We none of us know what may happen. I should like to be able to support
myself and Mabel, if the worst came. Old Mr. Stanbury says all property
is uncertain nowadays, especially in this country."
"Oh, don't repeat what that old croaking vulgarian and general leveller
and democrat says, to me! A democrat is my aversion, anyhow. I wonder
papa, can tolerate that coarse old Jackson man in his sight. 'Adams and
the Federal cause forever,' say I; and all aristocratic people are on
that side. I never enjoyed any thing so much as our illumination when
Mr. Clay gave his casting vote, and carried Congress. The Stanbury house
was as dark as a grave that night; but Norman was in our interest, and I
made him halloo 'Hurrah for Adams!' That was a triumph, at all events.
It nearly killed the old gentleman, though."
"If I were a man, _I_, too, would vote for General Jackson," I
said defiantly. "He was such a brave soldier; he could defend our
country if it was attacked again. Besides, I like his face better than
old moon-faced Adams; and I despise Norman for his time-serving."
"Miriam, I shall tell papa if you utter such sentiments again; you know
how devoted he is to the Federal party, and you ought to be ashamed of
"That is just because Mr. Bainrothe over-persuaded him. He used to
admire General Jackson. I heard him say once, myself, he would be the
people's choice, next time."
"I thought you accused Mr. Bainrothe of toadying papa. Where, now, is
your boasted consistency?"
"Evelyn, you know very well that is the way to rule and toady papa.
Yield to him apparently, and he will let you lead him and have your own
way pretty much. You have found that out long ago, Evelyn." And I looked
at her sharply, I confess. She colored, but did not reply. "There is
more," I said. "A girl who would be ashamed of her own mother, and
afraid to acknowledge her poverty, would not scruple to do this. I
believe you are almost as great a humbug at heart as Mr. Bainrothe
himself," and I smiled scornfully. "That is what _some_ people call
She turned on me with cold, white eyes and quivering lips; she shook me
by the shoulder until my teeth chattered and my hair tossed up and down
like a pony's mane blown by the winds, with her long, nervous fingers.
"Inform on me if you dare," she said, "or utter such an opinion to papa,
and I will make you and your baby both suffer for it, and that lame
hop-toad too, who follows you everywhere like your shadow! Moreover, if
you do breathe a syllable of this slander, I shall tell Mr. Bainrothe
your opinion of him, and make _him_ your enemy. And mark me, Miriam
Monfort, precious Hebrew imp that you are, you could not have a direr
one, not even if you searched your old Jewish Bible through and through
for a parallel, or called up Satan himself. I shall tell papa, too, that
you are a story-teller, so that he will never again believe one word
that you say, miss!"
"You could not convince him of that," I said, disengaging myself from
her grasp, "if you were to try, for I have honest eyes in my head, not
speckled like a toad's back, nor turning white with rage like a
tree-frog laid on a window-sill; but, if you ever dare to lay your hand
on me again, Evelyn Erle, I will tell papa _every thing_--there, now!
This is the last time, remember."
"I did not hurt you, and you know it, Miriam; I only shook you to settle
your brains," and she laughed a ghastly laugh, "and to make you a little
bit afraid of me."
"I am not afraid of you," I said, "that is one comfort; and you can
never make me so again; and I am not a mischief-maker, that is another;
so rest in peace. _Pass_ for my sister if you choose, and are proud of
the title; I shall not say yes or no, but of this be certain, you are no
sister of mine, though I call you such, either in heart or blood. I do
not love you, Evelyn Erle; and, if I were not afraid of the anger of God
and my own heart, I would _let_ myself hate you, and strike you. But I
always try and remember what mamma said, and what Mr. Lodore tells us
every Sunday. Yet I find it hard."
"Little hypocrite! little Jew!" burst from her angry lips, and she left
the room in a whirl of rage, not forgetting, however, to write me a very
smooth note before she went to school next morning, which was, with her
usual tact, slipped under my pillow before I awoke; and, after that, all
was outward peace between us for a season.
Evelyn was about sixteen when this occurred, I nearly twelve. The next
year she left school and made her _debut_ in society, and, through her
machinations, no doubt, I was sent away to a distant boarding-school for
two years, coming home only at holiday intervals thereafter to my
dearest baby, my home, my parent, and narrow circle of friends, and
finding Miss Erle more and more in possession of my father's confidence,
even to the arrangement of his papers and participation in the knowledge
of his business transactions, and entirely installed as the head of the
house, which post she maintained ever afterward indomitably.
Singularly enough, however, Mr. Bainrothe seemed secretly to prefer me
at this period, however much he openly inclined to her, and he lost no
occasion of privately speaking to me in rapturous terms (such as I never
heard him employ in the presence of Evelyn and my father) of his only
son, then absent in Germany engaged in the prosecution of his studies,
but to return home, he told me, to remain, as soon as he had completed
It was only through our knowledge of his son's age, and his admissions
as to the time of his own early marriage, that we arrived at any
estimate of Mr. Bainrothe's years; for, as I have said, Time, in his
case, had omitted what he so rarely forgets to imprint--his sign manual
on his exterior.
The school to which I was sent was half a day's journey from the city of
our residence, situated in a small but ancient town of Revolutionary
notoriety. The river, very wide at that point, was shaded by
willow-trees to some extent along its banks, immediately in front of the
Academy of St. Mark's, and beyond it to a considerable distance on
either hand. The town itself was an old-fashioned, primitive village
rather than burgh, quaintly built, and little adorned by modern taste or
improvement; but the air was fine and elastic, the water
unexceptionable, and bathing and boating were among our privileged
amusements. Among other less useful accomplishments, I there acquired
that of swimming expertly; and, as a place of exile, this quaint town
answered as well as any other for the intended purpose.
For, notwithstanding my father's assurances that Dr. Pemberton had
recommended change of air--to some degree true, of course--and that he
himself believed a public course of study would exhaust me less than my
solitary lessons, to which I gave such undivided attention, and
notwithstanding Evelyn's professions of regret at the necessity of
parting with me, and Mrs. Austin's belief that the "baby was killing me
by inches," since she took it into her head to sleep with no one else,
and to play half the night, and to stay with me all day besides, I felt
The whole matter was so sudden that I scarcely knew what to make of it.
Mr. Bainrothe alone let in a little light upon the subject by one
remark, unintentionally, no doubt:
"The fact is, Miriam, you are getting too much wound up with that
Stanbury family, and you would be perfectly entangled there in another
year. The idea of putting the whole hardship of George Gaston's
education on your shoulders was worthy of diplomatic brains, and
something I should scarcely have suspected that calm, quiet little woman
to have been capable of conceiving. There is an old, worn-out plantation
in the Gaston family, that your money would set going again, no doubt,
with accelerated velocity. Did you never suspect anything of that sort?"
he asked, carelessly.
"Never; nor did I suppose any one else was stupid or wicked enough to
entertain such an idea. I, being tolerably acute, _knew_ better,
"My dear little girl, you are entirely too chivalrous and confiding
where your feelings are engaged. What if I were to assure that this plan
had been agitated?"
"I should think you had been deceived, or that you were deceiving me,
one or the other. I should not _believe_ you, that would be all. You
understand me now, Mr. Bainrothe; there are no purer people than the
Stanburys--I wish every one was half as good and true."
"Old Gerald at the head of them, I suppose?" with a sneer and a
"Mr. Gerald Stanbury at the head of them," I reiterated firmly, adding:
"These are friends of mine, Mr. Bainrothe; it hurts and offends me to
hear them lightly discussed. If I am sent away from home to break off my
affection for them, the measure is a vain one, for I shall returned
"Yes, but with enlarged views, I trust, Miriam," he rejoined,
pertinaciously. "See how Evelyn was improved by her two years at school;
besides, how would you ever increase your circle of acquaintances here,
studying alone, or even with your shy disposition, at a day-school?"
"I am sent from home, then, to make acquaintances it seems, and to
prepare for my _debut_ into society? Very well, I shall not forget that;
but pray, what particular advantage in this respect does a
"Oh, the very first people send their daughters to St. Mark's. If I were
training a wife for my son, I should educate her there. What higher
eulogium could I bestow, or"--dropping his voice--"what higher
compliment pay you, Miriam?"
"If he were a king's son, you could not speak more confidently," I
rejoined, with inexcusable rudeness. "Remember, too, you are _not_
training a wife for your prince in disguise." But I was annoyed and
irritated by his patronizing manner, and the suspicion that took
possession of me from that time, that he had aided Evelyn in this
conspiracy against my peace for selfish views.
He laughed carelessly and turned away, but I saw triumph in his
variegated eye; yet was I powerless to resent it.
"I am leaving my poor papa bound hand and foot," I thought, "in
designing hands, but I cannot help it. He has chosen for himself, I will
not entreat his affection, his confidence, misplaced as they surely are.
I _cannot_ do this if I would; something stronger than myself binds me
to silence. But O papa, papa! if you only knew how I loved you, you
would not suffer these strangers to take my place, or banish your poor
Miriam so cruelly!"
"Don't let Mabel forget me," were the last words I spoke to Mrs. Austin,
as with a bursting heart I turned from the lovely child I had made
perhaps too much an idol; "and George, let her see George Gaston every
day; it will be a comfort to both." So, choking, I went my way.
I bade Evelyn "good-by" gayly, Mr. Bainrothe superciliously, my father
bitterly, for I felt his ingratitude to my heart's core; and, under dear
old Mr. Stanbury's escort, went to the steamboat, there to find one of
the lady principals of the academy ready to take charge of me on our
brief voyage. It was not in my nature to cherish depression or to make
complaints and sudden confidences, and we chatted very cheerfully all
the way up the river on indifferent subjects chiefly; sharing fruit and
flowers, and general observations and opinions, so that I felt quite
inspirited on my arrival, and made, I have reason to believe, no
My school-girl experiences I shall not record here. They were pleasant
and profitable on the whole, and I earned the esteem of my teachers, by
my zeal and diligence in my studies, and made some few valued friends
more or less permanent, but none so dear as those I left behind.
Laura Stanbury, quiet and uninteresting as she seemed to many, had a
hold on my heart that no newer acquaintance could boast, and for dear
George Gaston, where was there another like him? I have known no one so
gifted, so spiritual, so simply affectionate, as this child of genius
and physical misfortune, whose short but brilliant career is engraven on
the annals of his country, I well believe, indelibly.
When I was fifteen years old, I was recalled suddenly and in the middle
of a busy session to my home, by the severe and almost fatal illness of
my father. He rallied, however, soon after my return, and I had the
inexpressible satisfaction of hearing Dr. Pemberton, our good and
skillful family physician, pronounce him out of danger a week later, but
he would suffer me to go from him no more. The voice of Nature asserted
her claim at last, and, feeling within himself that indescribable
failure of vitality in which no one is ever deceived, and which can
never be explained to or wholly understood by another, he desired me to
remain with him through the remainder of a life which he foresaw would
not be long.
It was in vain that Dr. Pemberton tried to rally him on the score of his
old hypochondriacal tendencies, or that Evelyn quietly remarked: "I am
sure, papa, I never saw you looking better! It is a pity to interrupt
dear Miriam now in the full tide of her studies. I am sure that _I_ am
willing to devote every moment of my time to you if needful;" or that
Mrs. Austin added: "Miriam is so well, and growing so fast, that I am
afraid to see her take on care again, for fear of a check; and now that
Mabel is partly weaned from her they are both happy to be separated;" or
that Mr. Bainrothe carelessly interpolated: "Let the child go back, my
dear Monfort, or you will spoil her again among you. She is developing
splendidly at St. Mark's, and you have twenty good years before you yet,
with your unbroken English constitution."
Not even the joy manifested by George Gaston and Mrs. and Miss
Stanbury, or bluff old Mr. Gerald, at the good news of my return, could
shake his resolution.
"Miriam shall leave me no more while life is mine," he said, "be it long
or short. When she marries, I will surrender every thing I possess, save
a stipend, into her hands, and Evelyn and Mabel and I to some extent
will be her pensioners thereafter. Until that time, matters will stand
as they do now."
"Folly, folly, Colonel Monfort! You talk like a dotard of eighty; you, a
superb-looking man yet, younger than I am, no doubt; young enough to
marry again, if the fancy took you, and head a second family."
"Why not say a third?" asked my father, sadly. "Don't you know,
Bainrothe, I am a fatal upas-tree to the wives of my bosom? See how it
has been already."
"Better luck next time. Now, there is the Widow Stanbury, willing and
waiting, you know, and a dozen others."
I turned a flashing eye upon him that silenced him.
"You know better than that," I said, in suppressed tones, hoarse with
anger. "Better let that subject rest hereafter, unless, indeed, your
object is feud with me. You shall not slander my friends with impunity,
nor must you come any longer between me and them and my father."
I spoke, for his ear alone, and waited for no reply. I understood his
game by this time, as he did mine.
"His son, indeed!" I murmured, with a scornful lip, as I found myself
alone. "I would cut off my right hand before I would give it to a
Bainrothe," and I scoffed at him bitterly in the depths of my resentful
About this time I passed through a painful trial. It was autumn, and
early fires of wood had been kindled in the chambers; more, so far, for
the sake of cheerfulness than warmth. Mabel was playing on the hearth of
her nursery preparatory to going to bed, and I was in the adjoining
room, my own chamber, making an evening toilet, for Evelyn expected a
party of young visitors that night, and my presence had been requested.
Mrs. Austin, it seemed, had left the room for one moment, when a cry
from Mabel brought me to her side. She had fanned the fire with her
little cambric night-dress, and was already in a blaze. I caught Mrs.
Austin's heavy shawl from the bed, and promptly extinguished the flames,
but not without receiving serious injury myself. The child, with the
exception of a slight but painful burn on her ankle, was unhurt, but my
left arm and shoulder and bosom were fearfully burned, and for some days
my life hung on a thread.
Months passed before I was able to leave my own chamber, and the blow to
my health was so severe as to induce a return of those lethargic attacks
from which I had been entirely free for the last two years. It is true
they were brief in duration compared to those of old, but that they
should exist at all was a cause of anxiety and disquietude both to my
father and physician.
By the first of March, however, I was again in glowing health, and no
trace remained, except those carefully-concealed scars on my shoulder,
of my fearful injury.
Soon after this accident had occurred, two circumstances of interest had
taken place in our household and vicinity. One of these was the return
of Claude Bainrothe from abroad, and the other the rather mysterious
visit of a gentleman, young and handsome, but poorly clad, who had
inquired for my step-mother, Mrs. Constance Monfort, and on hearing, to
his surprise and grief, apparently, that she was dead, had gone away
again without requesting an interview with any other member of the
He had met Evelyn at the door just as she was about to step into the
carriage, dressed for visiting, and had said to her, merely (as she
asserted), as he turned away, evidently in sorrow:
"I am the brother of Mrs. Monfort, once Constance Glen--now, as you tell
me, no more. What children did she leave?"
"One only--a daughter," was Evelyn's reply. "Not visible to-day,
however, since she was severely burned a few days since, and is still
confined to her bed; not dangerously ill, though."
"I passed on then, as quickly as I could," said Evelyn, "for I saw no
end to questioning, and had an appointment to keep. I said, however,
civilly, 'Suppose you call another time, when papa is disengaged. To-day
he could not possibly receive you,' pausing on the steps for a reply.
This was of course all that was required of me, but he merely lifted his
hat with a cool 'Thank you, Miss Monfort,' and went his way silently. He
evidently mistook me for you, Miriam, and I did not undeceive him. My
greatest oversight was in forgetting to ask for his card; but his name
was Glen, of course, as hers was, so it would have been a mere form."
"The whole transaction seems to have been inconsiderate on your part,
Evelyn," I remarked, as mildly as I could. "Mamma's brother! Oh, what
would I not have given to have seen him! Did he never return, and where
is he now?"
"No, never that I know of, and he has disappeared. He walked by here a
few days later, Franklin says, when he was standing at the door with
papa's tilbury, still very poorly dressed, but neither stopped nor
spoke. You could not have seen him in your condition, at any rate,
Miriam, so you need not look so vexed; and I had no idea of having papa
annoyed so soon after his severe attack. Besides, I want no such claims
established over Mabel. She is ours, and need desire no other relations.
The next thing would have been an application for money, or board and
lodging, or some such thing, no doubt."
"How old did he seem to be, Evelyn?" I asked, conquering a qualm of
feeling at these words, and inexpressibly interested in her relation.
"I'm sure I can't tell, Miriam; about twenty-five or six, I suppose; the
usual age of all such bores. You know mamma was seven or eight and
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