Catherine A. Warfield
Part 2 out of 9
twenty when she died, and she said he was much younger than herself, you
"Oh, yes, I recollect perfectly. Did he resemble mamma, Evelyn? Was he
tall or short, fair or dark? Had he her lovely eyes? Do tell me about
"None of these things. A sort of medium man; not at all like mamma,
however, as far as I could see on such brief scrutiny, and as well as I
remember; with fine eyes, however. Not as good-looking as Claude
Bainrothe, by any means. Commonplace, very, with a seedy coat.
By-the-way, Miriam, _he_ will be back next week, I believe, and then you
will see this phenomenon. You know Mr. Bainrothe and papa design you for
"Papa, indeed! I suppose you mean Claude Bainrothe," and I laughed
disdainfully, I fear. "Nay, it is you rather, Evelyn, who have
captivated this piece of perfection, as far as I can learn. At least,
this is the report that--" I hesitated--colored.
"Finish your sentence, Miriam. The report that your faithful spies,
Laura Stanbury and George Gaston, have brought to you in your solitude.
They are very observing, truly," she pursued. "Creatures that never
penetrate beneath the surface, though. Self-deluders, I fancy, however,
rather than story-tellers."
"Do you pretend to deny it, Evelyn? Now, look me in the eyes and say
'No' if you dare," and I grasped her slender wrists playfully. She
opened her large, blue eyes and fixed them full on mine, responsively.
"_No_! Now you have the unmitigated truth. Ah, Miriam, I have no wish to
interfere with you," and she leaned forward and kissed my cheek
tenderly, disengaging her hands as she did so. Her manner had so changed
to me of late that she was growing rapidly into my affections, and I
returned her embrace cordially.
In the next moment we were laughing merrily together over the ridiculous
schemes of the elder Bainrothe, so transparent that every one understood
them perfectly, motive and all, and which my father winked at evidently,
rather than favored or encouraged, as our charlatan thought he
did--"Cagliostro," as we habitually called him.
"The fact is, prophetess, the person in question would not suit you at
all, with your grand ways and notions and prospects. I have fathomed his
depth pretty successfully, and I find him full of shoals and shallows.
Pretty well for a flirtation, though, and to keep one's hand in, but
unavailable any further."
"Having brought him to his knees, you are perfectly willing to pass him
over to me as a bond-slave. Is that the idea, Evelyn?"
"Exactly, Miriam; you are always so penetrating! But don't tell, for the
world. Old Bainrothe would never forgive me; and, as I once before told
you in one of my savage moods, his enmity is dire--satanic!"
"I am not afraid of Cagliostro, or his animosity," I answered; "never
was, Evelyn, as you know. The best way to disarm him is to confront him
boldly. He is like a lion in that alone. I wish, though, he would give
me a little of his elixir of life, for dear papa; he has never looked
himself since that attack, though better, certainly,--oh, decidedly
better, of course, than I dared to hope at one time ever to see him
again. Yet I am very anxious."
"Papa is well enough, Miriam; you only imagine these things. At fifty,
you know, most men begin to break a little; then they rally again and
look almost as well as ever in a few years, up to sixty or seventy. Look
at Mr. Lodore! He looked older when we first knew him than he does now;
and so did Dr. Pemberton."
"That is because they have both filled out and grown more florid and
healthy; but papa is withering away, Evelyn; shrinking day by day--his
very step has changed recently. Oh, I hope, I hope I may be deceived!"
And I covered my face with my hands, praying aloud, as I did sometimes
irresistibly when greatly excited. "God grant, God grant us his precious
life!" I murmured. "Spare him to his children!"
"Amen!" said Evelyn Erle, solemnly.
A few evenings after this conversation I went to see and hear the opera
of "Masaniello," then all the rage, and at the zenith of its popularity,
with Mrs. Stanbury, Laura, and George Gaston--Norman had been recently
placed in the navy and he was absent now, and Mr. Gerald Stanbury
obstinately refused to accompany us to that "monkey-and-parrot show," as
he deliberately dubbed the Italian opera.
"When men and women who are in love or grief, or who are telling each
other the news, or secrets, stop to set their words to music, and roar
and howl in each other's ears, the world will be mad, and the opera
natural," he said. "I will not lend my countenance before them to such a
As "Masaniello" had nearly had its run, and Evelyn was disinclined to
see it again, having attended during the winter about twenty
representations of this great musical spectacle, I was fain to go with
our neighbors and their very youthful escort, or forego my opera.
As we entered the crowded lobby, Laura and I walked together behind
George Gaston and Mrs. Stanbury, dropping later into Indian file as the
crowd increased, in which order I was the last. I wore a rich India
shawl, that had been my mother's, caught by a cameo clasp across the
bosom. Suddenly I felt the pin wrenched away and the shawl torn from my
shoulders. In another moment there was a cry--a scuffle--a fall--and a
prostrate form was borne away between two policemen, while a gentleman,
with his cravat hanging loose and his hair in wild confusion, came
toward me eagerly, extending the shawl and clasp.
"These are yours, I believe, young lady," he remarked, breathlessly,
throwing the shawl about my shoulders as he spoke, and laying the broken
clasp in my hand. "I am happy to restore them to you."
The whole transaction had been so sudden and so public, that there had
been neither time nor room for trepidation on my part. My own party,
pressing steadily on, had not yet missed me, so that, even in that
moment of excitement, I surveyed my champion with an eye capable of
"Thank you," I said. "I hope you are not hurt in my service?"
"No, no; not at all--that is, very slightly, indeed. Pass on, I will
attend you safely to your seat," and, obeying the wave of his hand, I
followed the direction of Mrs. Stanbury's white plume as observingly as
did the followers of Henry of Navarre, without turning again until I
reached the box she had entered. I was shocked then, as I bowed my
thanks, at the ghastly whiteness and expression of my escort's face, but
he vanished too quickly to permit of inquiry or remark at that season.
I had still time before the curtain rose to relate my adventure, which
brought the blood hotly to George Gaston's brow as he listened to it.
"There it is!" he muttered. "It is all very well with me in peaceful
times, but, when it comes to battle, a poor, lame wretch is of little
account. I might as well be a woman;" and the tears flowed down his
quivering cheeks. "It was shameful, disgraceful, that any other man
should have defended you, Miriam," he added, in a broken voice,
clinching his hands, "than I, your escort."
"You did not even see the affair, George," I remonstrated. "Had you been
as strong as Samson, and I know you are just as brave, you could not
have helped me, for there I was lagging away behind, through my own
fault, and how could you, in front, between your aunt and Laura,
possibly know what danger was in store for me? Now, I shall feel
provoked if you show so much morbid feeling; besides, reflect, you are
but a boy, dear. George. No youth of your age is ever very strong."
"A boy! and what are you, Miriam Monfort, that you taunt me with youth!
a woman, I suppose--a heroine!" with bitter sarcasm in his voice and
eye, for the first time in his life so directed to me. I gazed at him
in mute surprise.
"My dear George, you are very unreasonable, indeed," said Mrs. Stanbury.
"What has Miriam done to deserve such a taunt? I never knew you to
behave in such an uncourteous way before."
"You must be crazy, George Gaston," added Laura Stanbury, sharply.
"Don't you know you are attracting attention toward our box. Be still
"Oh no, it is only the magnificent Miss Monfort that every one is
staring at," he sneered. "The grown-up lady, the heroine, the heiress,
who lingers behind in the lobby, in order to get up little melodramas of
her own at the opera where such things are admissible, at the expense of
her lame escort!"
I turned to him calmly; I had not spoken before. "George," I said, "if
you say another word I shall go home alone, or burst into tears on the
spot, and disgrace myself and you, one or the other. I cannot bear
another word like this. I warn you, George Gaston!"
"Dear Miriam, forgive me; I am a fool I know," he said, as soon as he
could recover himself. "Lend me your handkerchief, Laura, mine has
mysteriously disappeared. There--Richard's himself again! (Sorra to
him!) He ought to have a bullet through his head for his pains" (_sotto
This stroke of bathos brought about good-humor again, and soon our whole
attention was absorbed in that magical music which to this hour
electrifies me more than that of any other opera excepting "Norma." "Bad
taste this," connoisseurs will say; but the perfection of human
enjoyment is to pursue one's own tastes independently of Mrs. Grundy,
whether musical, or literary, or artistic, according to my mode of
thinking. In all the pauses of the opera, however, I saw that handsome
and agitated face, that had last caught my eye at the box-door, rise
before me like a spell; and anxiety for the safety of my strange
champion--some curiosity too, mingled therewith, I do not deny, to know
his name and lineage--beset me during the whole of a sleepless night and
the dreaming day that succeeded it.
We were sitting around a cheerful spring fire in the front parlor, our
ordinary sitting-room, opening as this did into the dining-room beyond
on one hand, and the wide intersecting hall of entrance on the other, on
the opposite side of which lay the long, double-chimneyed drawing-room,
less cheerful than our smaller assembly-room by half, and therefore less
often used (there, you have our whole first-floor arrangement now, my
reader, I believe, and I must begin over again, to catch the clew of my
long sentence). We were sitting, then, around the cheerful fire in the
parlor in question, when Morton, my father's "own man," announced "Mr.
Bainrothe and son," and a moment afterward the two gentlemen so heralded
entered the room together. With one you are already somewhat familiar,
reader mine, as a gentlemanly, handsome man, with deliberate movements
and confident address. You have seen such men in cities frequently; but
the word _distingue_, so often too hastily bestowed, was the chief
characteristic of the appearance of his younger companion.
Tall, slender, graceful, strong--for strength alone bestows such easy
perfection of movement, such equipoise of step as belonged to him--with
a fine, clear-cut face and well-shaped head, nobly placed on his
straight, square shoulders--wide for a man so slight--dark eyed, dark
haired, with a mouth somewhat concealed by a long silken mustache, then
an unusual coxcombry in our republic, yet revealing in glimpses superb
teeth and the curve of accurately-cut lips, Claude Bainrothe stood
before me, a young Apollo.
"I have brought my son here to-night, expressly to introduce him to you,
Miriam, of whom he has heard so much."
He bowed low and silently, then tossed his curled head suddenly back
"We have met before, I believe, Mr. Bainrothe," I observed, when his eye
rose to meet mine. "You were good enough to restore me my shawl and
clasp last night at the opera, if I am not strangely mistaken."
"Ah! were you that lady?" he asked, with a slight yet somewhat
embarrassed laugh. "Forgive me, if in the confusion of the moment I
failed to remark your appearance. I only knew an outrage had been
committed, and naturally sought to repair it."
"Now, that was really romantic," said Evelyn, who had caught the idea.
"Miriam related her adventure, but was sorely puzzled to know to whom
she was indebted for such chivalrous aid."
"I am glad to have been of service to Miss Monfort," he rejoined,
deferentially, "but I merely obeyed an impulse strong with me. I should
have been wanting to myself to have done otherwise than defend a
"There could not have been a more favorable opening to your
acquaintance, certainly," observed Evelyn significantly; then, turning
away and crossing the apartment, she applied herself to the
entertainment of the elder Mr. Bainrothe, "Mr. Basil," as we called him
after his son came, by way of distinction between the two, since the
word "old" seemed invidious in his case, and we characterized them as we
would have done two brothers.
Indeed, in manner, in bearing, in something of quiet repose entirely
wanting in the father, and which usually seems the accompaniment of age
or experience, the son seemed the elder man of the two. I had yet to
learn that there is an experience so perfect and subtle that it assumes
the air of ignorance, and triumphs in its simplicity over inferior craft
When the mind has worked out the problems of life to its own
satisfaction, like the school-boy who has proved his sums, it wipes the
slate clean again and sets down the bare result--the laborious process
it effaces. All is simplified.
"I was fearful that you had been hurt last night, Mr. Bainrothe," I
hazarded, "from the expression of your face as I caught it at the
box-door. I am glad to see you well this evening."
"I _was_ hurt," he said, "to be frank with you. The scoundrel gave me a
severe blow on the chest, which brought a little blood to my lips, and
for the time I suffered. Had it not been for the faintness under which I
was laboring I could not have failed to identify you. But you are
generous enough to forgive this oversight I am convinced."
"Oh, surely! it was most natural under the circumstances. I have a habit
of fixing faces at a glance that is rather uncommon, I believe. I never
forget any one I have seen even for a moment, or where I have seen them,
or even a name I have heard."
"A royal gift truly, one of the secrets of popularity, I believe. It is
not so with me usually, though when my eye once drinks in a face" (and
he looked steadily at mine while he spoke those words slowly, as if
wrapped in contemplation), "it never departs again. 'A thing of beauty
is a joy forever,' you know, Miss Monfort." He sighed slightly.
"Yes, that line has passed into an axiom, the only sensible one, I
believe, by-the-by, that Keats ever wrote," I laughed.
"Oh, you do Keats injustice. Have you studied him, Miss Monfort?"
"Studied poetry? What an idea! No, but I have tried to read him, and
failed. I think he had a very crude, chaotic mind indeed; I like more
"Clearness and shallowness most often go together," he observed. "When
you see the pebbles at the bottom of a stream, most likely its waters
are not deep."
"Yet, you can stir up mud with a long pole in the pool more readily than
in the river. Keats wanted a current, it seems to me, to give him
vitality and carry off his own mental impurities. His was a stagnant
"What a queer comparison," and he shook his head laughingly, "ingenious,
but at fault; you are begging the question now. Well, what do you say to
"I have nothing to say to him; he has every thing to say to me. He is my
"An eccentric taste for so young a girl; and Byron? and Moore? and Mrs.
Hemans? and Leigh Hunt? and Barry Cornwall?"
"Oh, every one likes _them_, but one gets tired of hearing lions roar,
and harps play, and angels sing; and then one goes to Shelley for
refreshment. He is never monotonous; he was a perennial fountain,
singing at its source, and nearly all was fragmentary that he wrote, of
course, wanting an outlet. The mind finishes out so much for itself,
and the thought comes to one always, that he was completed in heaven. No
other verse stirs me like his. You know he wrote it because he had to
write or die. He was a poet, or nothing."
"You ought to write criticisms for _Blackwood_, really, Miss Monfort,
and give a woman's reason for every opinion," with ill-concealed
"You are laughing at me now, of course, but I don't regard good-natured
raillery. I am sure I should not enjoy poetry as I do were I a better
critic. I love flowers far more than many who understand botany as a
science, and pull them to pieces scientifically and analytically."
"And paintings; do you love them?"
"I confess I am _blase_ with art," he said, quietly; "I have seen so
much of it, I like nature far better;" adding, after a pause, "now, that
is your chief charm. Miss Monfort."
"What, being natural?"
"How well you divine my meaning!" with a little irony in the voice and
eye. The tendency of his mind was evidently sarcastic.
"Ah! true. Papa thinks me _too_ natural; he often checks my impulses.
Your father, too, coincides with him, I believe, in this opinion; but
don't talk about me. Tell me of your sojourn in Germany. How delightful
it must have been to have lived in Heidelberg, and felt the very
atmosphere you breathed filled with wisdom! Did you ever go to
Frankfort? Did you see the statue of Goethe there? Can you read 'Faust'
in the original? Oh, I should like to so much, but I know nothing of
German. I never could learn the character, I am convinced. French and
Italian only. There was such a beautiful picture of 'Margaret' in the
Academy of Fine Arts last year, I wanted papa to purchase it, but Evelyn
and he did not fancy it as much as I did. They prefer copies from the
old masters. I don't care a cent for Magdalenes and Madonnas and little
fat cherubs. I prefer illustrations of poetry or fiction; don't you, Mr.
"Very frankly, Miss Monfort, I don't care for pictures at all, unless
for good landscapes. I am cloyed with them. And as to German books, I
never want to see another. The old 'Deer-Stealer' was worth all they
have ever written put together, in my opinion. I love the vernacular."
"Oh, of course, Shakespeare and the Bible; there is nothing like them
for truth and power. But to leave poetry for its sister art, you must
have enjoyed the music in Germany. Do you love music, Mr. Bainrothe?"
"Not very much, except in opera; then the scenery and lights and people
are half the charm. I don't care for science. Such an adventure as I had
last night," he murmured low, "was worth a dozen operas to me;" and
again I met his admiring, steady gaze, almost embarrassing, fixed upon
"What are you two talking about?" asked Evelyn, coming suddenly behind
us. "Papa and Mr. Bainrothe are carrying on a little quiet flirtation,
as usual, and have quite turned their backs on me, so I came hither,
asking charity. I declare, Miriam's face is scarlet! What mischief are
you two hatching?"
"I have been running on at a most unconscionable rate," I replied,
"covering up my ignorance with many questions that have bored, rather
than proved, Mr. Bainrothe, I fear. Take up the dialogue, dear Evelyn,
for a few moments, while I go to superintend that elderly flirtation
you speak of, and keep papa in order," and I left them abruptly.
"It will all be paid in before then," I heard Mr. Bainrothe say, as I
approached them, "and you could not have a safer investment. It is as
sound as the Federal Government itself. Indestructible as the solar
"I will bring the papers," papa said, rising. "Excuse me for ten
minutes," and I dropped into his empty seat by Mr. Bainrothe.
"I hope I shall not interrupt your business meditations while papa is
gone," I observed, breaking the silence first.
"Business is my pastime, and no food for meditation, my dear girl; for,
like the Pontic monarch of old days, 'I live on poisons, and they have
no power, but are a kind of nutriment.' Now, talking to a pretty young
girl is far harder and more unusual work to me than transacting
mercantile or financial affairs."
"Then I will not oppress you with my society," I said, with a feint to
"Sit still, Miriam, and don't be foolish. You know what I mean, very
well. Now, how do you like my son?"
"Oh, very much indeed; he is a little satirical, though, now and then;
intolerant of youthful greenness, I perceive, and enthusiasm."
"All affectation, I assure you. He is as verdant himself as the Emerald
Isle. Just from college, and very young; what can he know of life? As to
enthusiasm, he is full of it."
"True, what _can_ he know of life," I mused, and I glanced at him, as I
questioned, sitting in front of Evelyn in a sort of humble, devoted
way, very different from his easy, knightly air with me. She wore a
cold, imperious expression of face not unbecoming to her haughty style
of beauty, and fanned herself gently as she listened carelessly to his
evidently earnest words, bowing superciliously in answer from time to
"The desire of the moth for the star," burst from my lips involuntarily.
"Nothing of the kind," said Mr. Bainrothe, quietly. "If Evelyn Erie were
the last of her sex, _he_ never could fancy _her_. She is much too old
for my son, much too artificial; and, beautiful as she is, she wants
some nameless charm, without which no woman ever secures the abiding
love of man;" adding, abruptly, after a little pause, "_That charm is
"How strangely you talk, Mr. Bainrothe!" I replied, with evident
embarrassment, which he pretended not to perceive.
"Had you remained one year longer at school, there would have been no
grace, no perfection wanting. I am sorry to see you thrown so young, so
unprotected, on the waves of society, as you must be soon."
"Oh, not necessarily. I rarely come into the parlor when Evelyn
receives, rarely go to parties, and my studies are as dear to me as they
ever were. Besides, Mabel absorbs much of my time, and I am quite
infatuated with my new accomplishment."
"What is that, Miriam?"
"I am studying elocution, learning to read with Mr. Mortimer--you have
heard of him--and he is pleased, so far, with my success. It is a very
"Yes, you have a good voice, an impassioned face and manner--all very
suitable, no doubt; but what will it amount to, after all? You will
never have to earn your bread in that way, and for a home circle you
have always read well enough. It is time wasted, I imagine."
"But the reading is not _all_. I learn to know and comprehend so much
that was sealed from me before; in this way, Shakespeare, Milton, Scott,
all acquire new beauties. By-the-by, this is what your son meant by
studying poetry, perhaps."
"The puppy! Has he been lecturing you, too? Really, there is no end to
his presumption;" and he smiled, benignly, upon him.
"I must defend him from such a charge," I said, earnestly. "I find him
very deferential--he has the courteous European manner, which, when
high-bred, is so polite. Americans never learn to bow like foreign
gentlemen. It is a great charm."
"Do you hear that, Claude? Miss Monfort approves of your bow. This is
all I can extort from her; but she is very hard to please, very
censorious by nature, so don't be entirely discouraged."
A bow of the approved sort, and wave of the hand across the room, in
addition, were the only rejoinder elicited by this sally, and again the
downcast head, the clasped hands, the low, entreating voice denoted the
character of his conference with Evelyn. He was pleading a desperate
cause, it seemed to me.
Mr. Bainrothe became unreasonably nervous, I thought. He fidgeted with
his hat, and gloves, and cane, which he took from the table near him,
dropping the last as he did so; he glanced impatiently at the door
through which my father was to enter, and, when finally his friend came,
after a brief conference in a corner with regard to the papers he had
gone out to seek, probably, summoned his son abruptly and darted off in
true Continental style, followed by his more stately junior.
"Mr. Bainrothe amuses me," observed Evelyn after we were alone again.
"He is so transparent, dear old butterfly! He need not be alarmed! I
have put a quietus on all presumptuous hopes in that quarter forever,
and now, Miriam, I hand him over to you signed and sealed 'Claude
Bainrothe rejected and emancipated by Evelyn Erie, and ready for fresh
servitude--apprenticed, in short.'"
"Thank you," I rejoined, dryly, speaking with a tightness at my throat.
"He thinks you quite good-looking, Miriam, I assure you; he was
agreeably disappointed, even after what he had heard of your
appearance--from the Stanburys, I suppose--and observed that there were
fine elements in your character, too, if properly shaped and combined--a
great deal of '_come out_.'"
"He is truly gracious and condescending," I replied, "I thank him
"It was very plain that you admired him, Miriam. Any one could see that.
I noticed his internal amusement at your fluttered manner."
"Did he tell you what his thoughts were, Evelyn, or do you merely
interpret them after your own fashion?" I asked, sternly.
"Oh, of course he said nothing of the kind; I would not have permitted
it, had he wished to. Poor fellow! I hope you will be kinder to him than
I have been," and she sighed heavily. "He is yours now to have and to
hold, you know."
"You have not shown your usual good taste, Evelyn," I remarked, coolly,
"in rejecting so handsome and fascinating a man, and making him over to
another, unsolicited. Claude Bainrothe would suit you exactly, I think;
and, as to money, he will have enough, no doubt, for both. If not"--I
"If not, what, Miriam?" she urged, stamping her little foot impatiently
as my answer was delayed. "If not, what then, Miriam? Speak out!"
"If not, dear sister, _I_ will try to make up the _deficiency_," I said,
embracing her. "Now you understand my intentions."
I was learning to love my sister, and happy in the power to please her,
unconscious that an invisible barrier was rising from that hour, never
to be put aside.
For a discarded lover heartlessly played with, as she herself confessed
he had been, Claude Bainrothe bore himself very proudly and calmly in
Evelyn Erle's presence, I thought. At first, there was a shade of
coolness, of pique even in my own manner toward him as the memory of
Evelyn's insinuations rose between us; but after the lapse of a few
weeks all thought of this kind was put away, and he was received with a
pleasure as undisguised, as it was innocent and undesigning on my part.
The repugnant idea of succeeding to Evelyn in his affections had stifled
the very germs of coquetry, and my manner to him was unmistakable; nor
was it without evident dissatisfaction that Mr. Basil Bainrothe surveyed
the ruin of his hopes.
A sudden and painful change took place about midsummer in Claude's
manner toward me (with Evelyn it was uniform). He became cold,
restrained, embarrassed in his intercourse with me, hitherto so frank
and brotherly. He made his visits shorter and at last at greater
intervals; yet I knew, through others, that he remained strictly at
home, eschewing all places of amusement, all society--"all occupation
even," as Mr. Basil Bainrothe himself complained.
"I can't think what has got into Claude lately," he said to my father
one day at our dinner-table. "The boy mopes. He is in love, I believe,
but with whom I can't conjecture," and he glanced askance at Evelyn and
me.--"Can you assist me, ladies?"
"Not with me, I assure you," said Evelyn, proudly. "That measure has
been trodden, and the dance is over."
"Nor with me," I faltered, for the careless words had struck to my
heart. "That fancy dance has yet to be solicited. We both plead
innocent, you see, Mr. Bainrothe," and I tried to laugh, but the
glittering, kaleidoscopic eye was fixed upon me, and my face was
"Never _blush_, Miriam," whispered Evelyn, maliciously, "it makes you
look the color of a new mahogany bedstead. You are best pale, child.
Always remember that."
"It must be with Miss Stanbury, then," said Mr. Bainrothe, evasively.
"She is a very pretty girl, and I don't wonder at Claude's infatuation.
The old man is rich, too; it will answer very well, I think. What do you
say, Mr. Monfort."
"Well, really, I think Claude could scarcely do better," rejoined my
ever literal father. "She is an admirable young person, pious, and
discreetly brought up--and--yes, quite pretty, certainly. Let us drink
to his success in that quarter.--Ladies!--Mr. Bainrothe!--fill your
glasses.--Franklin, the sherry.--Morton, the port. Which will you have,
Bainrothe? or do you prefer Rhine wines?"
"A glass of Hockheimer, if you have it convenient, Franklin. Those heavy
wines are too heating for our summers, I think, Mr. Monfort. You
yourself would do well to follow my example."
"Thank you," said my father, loftily. "When you feed lions on
pound-cake you may expect to see Englishmen drink German acidulations
instead of the generous juice of the grape--fostered on southern soil,
above volcanoes even--to which they have been used since the time of the
last Henrys. Beer were a better alternative. Give me claret or madeira."
Mr. Bainrothe had his limits, and usually took care not to exceed them.
My father's easy good-nature was converted into frozen _hauteur_ at any
open effort to transcend the boundaries of his independence. He gloried
in "_Magna Charta_," and never knowingly sacrificed his baronial
privileges, yet he was wax in the hands of a skillful wheedler, and his
"adamantine will" was readily fused in the fires of flattery.
We drank the proposed toast, much to Mr. Bainrothe's discomfiture. He
had made the remark as a skillful feeler, and was mortified at my
father's ready acquiescence in his plans. Of course, Evelyn and I both
saw through the unskillful _ruse_, and pledged him with hearty malice;
but he had yet another shot in reserve, which told with fatal effect.
"Mr. Biddle has offered me a cashiership for Claude," he remarked,
carelessly, "in a thriving town in Georgia, and I shall accept for him
forthwith. Then, if Miss Stanbury chooses to accompany him into exile,
it will be all for the best; but, were he about to remain here, I would
not suffer him to think of matrimony for years to come. 'A young man
married is a young man marred,' as Shakespeare says somewhere, I
believe; and I agree with him. A youth of twenty-one ought to be free
for a season until he can shape his life."
I felt myself tremble from head to foot. I had never contemplated the
possibility of his absence, and the conviction of my deep interest in
him flashed across me for the first time with lightning force and
vividness. Evelyn did not reproach me for blushing this time; I was pale
enough to satisfy even her spleen. Indeed, some better feeling than she
had before manifested seemed to inspire her now, for she filled another
glass of wine and motioned me to drink it. I had merely sipped from mine
when papa proposed his toast, and Franklin had borne it away with the
others in making ready for the dessert.
"Don't let that man read you," she said, in a low, eager voice, not lost
on me. I drank the wine, and met his glance steadily this time, and gave
him look for look. My secret had nerved me well.
That evening Claude Bainrothe came.
"When do you enter the sacred bands of matrimony with Miss Stanbury, Mr.
Bainrothe?" asked Evelyn, in her usual, cool, provoking way, sipping a
glass of iced lemonade as she spoke, which Claude had brought her from
the refreshment-slab and humbly offered.
"And when do you assume your office in Georgia?" I asked in the next
breath, encouraged by her example, and perhaps, alas! eager to know the
truth, scarcely lifting my eyes to his as I spoke.
He glanced from one to the other with a bewildered air, quite foreign
from his usual self-possession.
"I protest, ladies, I do not understand your allusions," he replied at
last, with such an air of truth that, taking pity on him, we explained
the matter laughingly.
"My poor father is falling into that sear and yellow leaf, his dotage,"
he said, "that is evident; what could possess him to maunder so? I
really believe he is in love with Miss Stanbury himself, and is
wire-working merely to gain my consent. As to going to Georgia, I would
as soon bury myself up to my neck in the sea-sand and bear the vertical
sun for twenty sequent noons, as to dream of such a step. The old
gentleman is a lunatic, and should be cared for without delay. I will
get Dr. Parrish to see after him to-morrow."
"But I _did_ hear you say you were going to Copenhagen with our
minister," said George Gaston, who had swung himself softly up to our
party on his crutches, unobserved by any one, while Claude was speaking,
and now stood glaring upon him.
"Ah, that is a different matter. I _may_ go there, George. I am told it
is a very gay court; besides, I am curious about Denmark, naturally.
Every one is who loves Shakespeare and the 'royal Dane,' you know."
Again that fatal pallor of mine swept from my heart to brow, and this
time the large, dark gray eye of the boy was fixed on me with agony
unspeakable. He dropped it suddenly, wheeled on his supporting-sticks,
and turned away, ghastly pale himself, to seek the shelter of the
portico, where I joined him a few minutes later.
"Are you ill, George?" I asked. "I felt anxious about you when I saw you
leave the parlor so suddenly. Have you had one of your spells?"
"A very severe spell, Miriam; but not of the usual kind." I understood
him now. There was a dry anguish in the very tone of his voice that
smote heavily on my ear, yet I felt impatient with him, provoked beyond
"George, you should be more of a man," I said, with asperity, "than to
yield in this way to every impulse that besets you. Your whims are hard
to bear with lately, and scarcely worth understanding, I am convinced."
"Would I were more or less of a man!" he answered, meekly. "I should
suffer less, probably."
"Tell me what _does ail_ you, George Gaston," I added, with a sudden
revulsion of feeling, caused by his patient, deprecating manner. "You
know you always have my warmest sympathy, and affection--sisterly
"Ah, Miriam, it is that! You love that man; yes, you love him a
thousand-fold more than you have ever loved me. I suspected it before--I
know it now; and I would rather see you floating a corpse on the river,
with your dead face turned up to heaven, than married to that man, I
hate him so!"
The last words were ground between his set teeth, and he trembled with
"George," I said, "you are still a child in years, in strength, in
stature! I, but a few months older, am already a woman in age,
experience, feeling, character. It is always thus with persons of our
sexes who contract childish friendships--one outgrows the other. Then
there are bitterness, reproach, suffering, resentment, on one part or
the other. But is this just? Remember Byron and Miss Chaworth--how was
it with them? He grasped too much, and lost every thing; he embittered
his whole nature, his whole life, for the want of common-sense to guide
him; but, with almost as much genius--more, in some things, than he
possessed--you HAVE this governing principle. I know my dearest George
will do me justice. I shall be an old, faded woman when you are of an
age to marry--unlovely in your eyes, George,"--I hesitated. "I have
always hoped you would be our Mabel's husband. You know you have
promised me." I smiled tearfully this time.
He bounded off the bench, interrupting me with a low cry. "Do not mock
me, Miriam Monfort," he exclaimed, "if you can do no better. My God! a
baby of five years old suggested as a wife by you, my idol! Oh, yes,
wildly-beloved Miriam, the noblest, truest, as I have ever thought
you--the most beautiful, too, surely, of all God's created beings!" and
he caught my hand wildly.
"George, you are dreaming," I said; "your vivid fancy misleads you
utterly. I am not beautiful--you cannot think so; no one has ever
thought me so; you must not say such an absurd thing of me. It only
humiliates me. But I do believe I still deserve your esteem. Let us
separate now, and to-morrow come to me in a better mood."
"If I _must_ give you up," he murmured, in a low, grieved voice, "let it
be to a husband who loves and appreciates you--is worthy of you. I
cannot tell you all I know--_have heard;_ but of this I am certain:
Claude Bainrothe loves you not! It is Evelyn he worships, and you are
blind not to see it; Evelyn who has goaded him almost to madness already
for her own purposes. I heard--but no, I cannot tell you this; I ought
not--honor forbids;" and he laid his hand on his boyish breast, in a
tragic, lofty manner, all his own, that almost made me smile.
"I know, I know all this, dear George," I said. "Claude Bainrothe
addressed Evelyn before he knew me, and she refused him. Nor have I
craved the honor, this is all that can be said as yet, of being her
successor." I faltered here. "Let this satisfy you for the present. He
has not spoken to me."
"But you love him--love him, Miriam!" he groaned. "Oh, I saw it plainly
to-night, and, what is far more terrible and hard to bear, he saw it
too! He was watching you from the corner of his furtive, downcast eye
when he was speaking of going to Copenhagen, and a smile trembled
around his mouth when you turned so pale--white as a poplar-leaf,
Miriam, when the wind blows it over! If I were a woman I would cut out
my heart rather than open it thus to the gaze of any man, far less one
like that, shallow, selfish, superficial. O Miriam! not worthy of you at
all--not fit to tie your shoe-latchet!"
"George, you overrate me, you always did, and--and--you undervalue Mr.
Bainrothe, believe me; nay, I am sure you do. Let us part now, George.
My father is calling me, you hear. Go home, my own dear boy, and rest
and pray. Oh, be convinced that I love you better than all the world,
except those I _ought_ to love more.--Yes, yes, papa! I am
coming.--Good-night, dear George."
And I kissed his clammy brow, hastening in the next moment to my
father's side, who, missing me, could not rest in this new phase of his
until I was forthcoming. Certainly, whatever tenderness I had missed in
former years was amply lavished on me now. Evelyn, Mabel--all former
idols sank out of sight in my presence, and the very touch of my hand,
the sound of my voice, seemed to inspire him with happiness and a new
sense of security. Sometime I flattered myself that I had earned this
affection, since it had not seemed my birthright, nor come to me
earlier; but no, it was the grace of God, I must believe, touching his
heart at last, as the rod of Moses brought forth waters from the rock.
Yet the simile is at fault here: my father's heart was never a stone,
but tender and true and constant ever, even if locked away.
It may seem strange, but from the very evidences of his carelessness, as
they seemed to others, I gathered, after a time, the blissful conviction
that Claude Bainrothe was not indifferent to me. His reserve, his
moroseness almost, the despairing way in which he spoke sometimes of his
future life, his want of purpose, of interest in what was passing around
him, his entire self-possession with Evelyn, so different from his
embarrassment with me; his manner of pursuing me with his eyes, and
holding me fast, and the long sidelong glances he often dropped at my
feet like offerings, as I detected his vigilance--all persuaded me that
what I most wished to believe was true, and that I had awakened interest
if not passion in his heart, for--at last, I loved him!
The time came when his own lips confirmed my suspicions, my hopes--when
faintly, and in broken accents, he related to me the story of his love;
mine, as he declared, since the evening of our first meeting; and asked
my troth in turn. I was so inexperienced in matters of this sort, I
scarcely knew how to behave, I suppose; besides, I never thought of
giving any other reply than the one he craved, for I too had inclined to
him from the first. I recognized this now, and did not deny it when he
urged me for the truth, holding my hands in his, and looking into my
eyes in a deep and tender and devoted way peculiar to himself, that
thrilled to my very life--an adoring expression that I have seen in no
other gaze than his own, and which cast a glamour about him, I well
believe, irresistible wherever it was exercised.
It was in September that we became engaged, with the joyful coincidence
of Mr. Bainrothe, the somewhat reluctant consent of my father, the
half-derisive approbation of Evelyn, the entire disapproval, expressed
in eloquent silence, of the whole Stanbury family. For a time, this
grave coldness on their part alienated me greatly from them all, George
Gaston especially; and had it not been for Mabel, and the bond she
proved between us, we might have been divided for life thereafter.
My father's declining health alone threw a bleakness over that rosy time
of joy, and held in check the exuberance of my happy spirit, brimming
like sparkling wine above the vase that contained it. Sometimes, when I
met Evelyn's cold and gloomy eye, I felt myself rebuked for the
indulgence of my perfect happiness. "She knows that my father is more
ill than he seems!" I would conjecture--"Dr. Pemberton has told her what
he conceals from me. I am making festal garlands in readiness for my
father's grave, perhaps." Then with tears and entreaties I would
question her: "I _cannot_ be mistaken," I would say; "something is wrong
with you. Is it about my father? If not of him, what is it, Evelyn, that
makes your face like a stone mask of late--once all life and joy?"
"Miriam, I am not quite well," she would reply evasively, or say, "I am
meditating a step that will cost me dear. My uncle, the Earl of Pomfret,
the head of our house since my grandfather's death, you know, writes me
to visit him. It is this fatal necessity--for such for some reasons I
feel it--that oppresses me so heavily."
"Why a necessity, dear Evelyn, why go at all? You certainly can never
feel to any relative as you do to _my_ father and _yours_."
"Your father does not find me as important to his happiness as he once
did, Miriam. You have absorbed his whole affection of late; even Mabel,
once his darling and plaything, is put aside."
"He surrendered her to me again, Evelyn, when I returned; this is all,
believe me. He loves, he esteems you as much as ever; he consults you in
all his arrangements. He has made you the mistress of his house; your
judgment, your advice, are paramount with, him as to all matters of
outlay; and, Evelyn, suffer me to speak to you on one subject of great
delicacy--sister! I must. Whenever you marry from this house, understand
well that you shall not go empty-handed."
"Fortune is not _his_ to bestow," she responded, "and large charities
have absorbed, I know, much of his yearly income, princely as that is.
Besides, he reinvests all that remains from that source for Mabel, as I
know. I feel assured he will provide for me, but it must be in a very
small way, and I must go to England and make my establishment there."
"Would you marry for money, Evelyn?" I asked gravely. "O sister, can you
conceive of no higher happiness than this?"
"I can," she said with emotion, while her lips blanched to the hue of
ashes. "I have dreamed such a dream in days past, but now the dark
reality alone remains and sweeps all before it. I shall embrace my first
eligible offer regardless of feeling, and I prefer to cast my destiny
with my own people, however estranged they may be. Certainly, this
letter is not very affectionate, nor even a courteous one from so near a
relative," and she placed in my hand the cold and supercilious note of
the Earl of Pomfret, containing a permission to visit his castle, rather
"Yet you will go, Evelyn?"
"Miriam, I _must_ go. I should go mad were I to stay here, or die in the
"Sister, what can this be? Evelyn, hear me: I swear to you, on the day
of my majority, to endow you richly in your own right. It is
independence you want--you shall have it. My father will consent to
this I know, and consider it no more than your due."
"You are kind," she said; "generous, very. You are not like your
mother's people in that respect, such as they are in these degenerate
days, at least. She herself was unlike them, I have heard, for her hand
was princely. But, Miriam, I could not receive such obligations from
you--ought not. Besides--your husband!"
"Ah, Evelyn, there is nothing he would refuse me--nothing."
A gloomy mockery transfused itself into her eyes, her lips were fixed in
a suppressed and sneering smile. Incredulity was written on her aspect.
Her face at that moment was very repulsive to contemplate.
"You do not believe in men," I said, coldly. "I have always remarked it;
yet there are _some_ worthy of confidence, believe me."
"Very few, Miriam, and Claude Bainrothe is not unlike the majority of
his fellows. Men count it no wrong to deceive women."
"O Evelyn, you are too severe, I think. Why seek to shake my confidence
in the man I love? He did not happen to suit your fancy, and you
rejected him. I took what you cast aside, humbly, thankfully, dear
Evelyn. Why resent this, and scorn me for my humility? Let not your
pride for me make you unjust toward him. You, of all women, can best
afford to be generous to Claude Bainrothe."
But still the cold shadow veiled her face, and still she looked
inauspiciously on our betrothal, which, owing to our youth, it was
understood, should continue a year. In the interval I was to travel with
my father to the different large cities of the Union which I had never
seen, and abide awhile in Washington.
His health, Dr. Pemberton thought, required this change, but a darker
one was in store for him.
On Christmas-day, of that year, he was smitten with paralysis, and his
decline was sure and rapid from that hour. Let me pass over the agony of
that period of six weeks, lengthened into years by the dread tension of
anxiety, most relentless of the furies. But for the confidence I felt in
Claude's affection, and the vista of hope it opened for me, I think I
should have succumbed under the unequal struggle.
During this period, his attentions to me and to my helpless father were
most kind and assiduous. Mr. Bainrothe and Evelyn, too, between whom
some unexplained alienation had existed for some time, met in apparent
harmony above his bed of death.
In addition to the services of our own dear and valued physician, we had
others of eminence coming and going daily, with the knowledge in their
own breasts that all was vain.
Still I never ceased entirely to hope until the very last. "He is not
old, he is still vigorous," I would say to myself. "There may be--there
_must_ be--reaction. I have so often heard him boast of his English
constitution, I cannot, oh, I cannot think that the end is yet!"
I wondered then at the inattention of the Stanburys, in whose
disinterested friendship I had reposed so much confidence, even though a
shadow of late had been thrown over our intercourse by my engagement
with Claude Bainrothe, a shadow of which I thought I saw the substance
in the bitter jealousy and rancorous, unreasonable love and hatred of
the morbid George Gaston.
Later I found by the merest accident, through one note of his that had
been left in a drawer of a desk long disused, that Mr. Gerald Stanbury
and Evelyn had maintained a rather fierce correspondence on the subject
of her refusal to accept his services at my father's pillow; founded, as
she alleged, on the recent unexplained but deep-rooted aversion Mr.
Monfort seemed to have imbibed for his neighbor and friend, and which
his physicians said must be regarded.
Allusion was made, not unmixed with bitterness, in Mr. Stanbury's note,
to this assertion of hers, which he pronounced, if true, to rest on the
misrepresentations of villains who had interposed between the too
confiding Mr. Monfort and himself for no good purpose. No names were
given, but it was easy to see to whom his reference was made, and I had
every reason to suppose that Evelyn had communicated these opinions to
those most interested in knowing them long before this record
accidentally fell into my hands.
On the day of the funeral, however, Mr. and Mrs. Stanbury were present,
with Laura and George. All seemed deeply affected, and one by one came
to me in my shadowed chamber with a few words of tender sympathy or
kindly condolence, for I could not bear to go down into that crowded
parlor and see _him_ dead amid all that tide of life, who had so lately
stood there powerful and beloved--Monfort the master!
It was a superb day, they told me, such as we often have at that season
in our changeful clime, and the distant peal of military music, the
chiming of bells, the firing of cannon, the roar of the awakened
multitude, reached my ear even in that secluded street, that quiet room.
The people were celebrating an anniversary that in all times has brought
joy and pride to millions of united hearts. It was the birthday of
Laura Stanbury remained with me while all the rest went to the stately
funeral, Evelyn leading Mabel down-stairs, they told me, attired in her
little black dress, in sad contrast with her ivory skin, her yellow
hair, her childish years, and her unconsciousness of the grave loss she
had sustained; Mrs. Austin following these, her darlings, to go with
them in the principal mourning-coach, in which Mr. Bainrothe also found
himself ensconced, by some diplomacy of his own, no doubt, all clad in
sables, and with his polished aspect fixed in woe!
After the funeral, Dr. Pemberton came up for a few minutes to my
chamber. He found me reasonably calm and composed, and expressed his
gratification at my condition.
"Now, do be very careful of yourself, my dear Miriam, or you may have
one of your sleepy attacks, and they are exhausting to Nature, trying to
both body and soul. We must guard against any thing of this sort at this
time. You know how apt they are to supervene on excitement of any kind
with you." He said this in his own kind, encouraging manner.
"Then they are strictly nervous?" I inquired.
"I don't know; can't say, indeed.--Here, Mrs. Austin, give Miriam one of
these powders," and he drew them from his pocket-book, "every six hours
until I come again, and keep her as quiet as possible. Some light
nourishment she must take, but let there be no preaching and praying
about her this evening, and advise Mr. Bainrothe to go quietly home for
the present. She must not be excited, only soothed. Let Mabel come, of
He came again on the next day and the next, and so on until he was
satisfied that all was going on very well, he said, but he would not
suffer my father's will to be opened for a week, knowing that my
presence would be necessary at the reading, and he permitted no
disturbance of any kind to approach me during that interval of
"Do you think you could get through with a few business details
to-morrow?" he asked me on the last day of his visit. "They all seem
very impatient, though I cannot see why."
"I think so, Dr. Pemberton."
"Well, then, notify Mr. Bainrothe to make ready for you in the library
at any hour you may fix upon. He was your father's attorney, it seems,
and had the will in his keeping. Of course it will be a very simple
matter to carry out its provisions, since all was fixed before, as every
one knows, but there may be some little agitation. Now, don't give way,
I charge you."
"How can I help it. Dr. Pemberton?"
"Oh, with a will like yours, one can do a great deal. I had an obstinate
patient once determined not to die, and she did not die, though death
was due. Resistance is natural to some temperaments. Yours is one of
them. Fight off those attacks, Miriam, in future."
"I will try," I said, half amused at his suggestion, "but, if all
physicians gave such prescriptions, medicine would be at a discount."
"Not at all. Medicine is a great aid in any case--I have never thought
it more. A doctor is only a pilot; he steers a ship sometimes past
dangerous places on which it would founder otherwise, but he never
pretends, unless he is a charlatan, to upheave shoals and rocks, or to
control tempests. He can only mind his rudder and shift his sails; the
rest is with Providence. Now, suppose the captain of this ship is calm
and firm, and coincides with the pilot's efforts, instead of
counteracting and embarrassing them. Don't you see the advantage to the
"Oh, certainly, and I admire the ingenuity of your allegory. You must
have been studying Bunyan, lately."
"No, Miriam, I have little time for books, save those necessary to my
profession. I study a mightier volume daily than scholar ever wrote--the
wondrous mind and body of man, the one illustrated by the other, and
both so mutually dependent that short-sighted people have occasionally
confounded them, yet distinct after all as God and the universe."
"I am glad to hear you say this; doctors are so often accused of being
"No men living have less excuse for being so. The phenomenon of death
alone ought to set that matter at rest in any reasoning mind. The
impalpable is gone, and the material perishes. It is so plain that he
that runs might read, one would think. That sudden change from volition
to inertia is, in itself, conviction to every right-seeing mind."
"Yet I wish we knew more," I mused, aloud. "We ought to know more, it
seems to me. God has not told us half enough for our satisfaction. It is
so cruel to leave us in the dark, lit only by partial flashes of
lightning. If we were certain of the future, we could bear separation
better from those we love. It would not seem so hopeless."
"If we were certain of the future, we would not bear it all," he
remarked, "but grow impatient and exacting like children who rise in the
night to examine the Christmas stocking, rather than wait until morning.
Most often we should join those we loved rather than bide our time if
we were certain. Moreover, what merit would there be in faith or
fortitude? No, Miriam, it is best as it is, believe me. Every thing is
for the best that God has done; we must not dare to question the ways
any more than the will of the Eternal."
"You ought to have been a preacher, Dr. Pemberton," I said, smiling
sadly, "instead of a physician."
"No, my dear little girl, I ought to have been just what I am, since it
was God's will. And now be calm and self-sustaining until I come again,
which will be before long, I think."
I tried as far as in me lay to regard the instructions of my kind friend
and physician (and happy are those who unite both in one person), but,
prepare as we may to receive the waves of the sea when we bathe in its
margin, and skillful as we may believe ourselves in buffeting or
avoiding them, there comes one now and then with a strength and
suddenness that sweeps us from our feet, overthrows us, and lays us
prostrate at the sandy bottom of the ocean, to emerge therefrom half
stifled with the bitter brine.
Such experience was destined to be mine before many hours.
Mr. Gerald Stanbury had been especially invited to attend the reading of
my father's will, by a polite note from Mr. Bainrothe, in which the
interest that both bore in this testament was plainly set forth. With
the exception of our excellent old neighbor and the two Mr. Bainrothes,
the circle assembled for the solemn occasion was composed entirely of
Mr. Monfort's household and was truly a funereal one. I wore my
deep-mourning dress for the first time that day, and Mabel, similarly
attired, sat beside me. Claude Bainrothe was alone on a distant sofa.
Evelyn assumed my father's chair, and wore, with the weeds customary to
widows, a demeanor of great dignity and reserve suitable to the head of
the family. Mr. Gerald Stanbury had a seat near mine, on which he sat
uneasily, and Mrs. Austin, Franklin, and Morton, were ranged together
stiffly in chairs placed against the wall, likewise attired in deep
mourning. Mr. Bainrothe was seated near the study-table, looking
unusually pale and subdued, from one of the drawers of which he had
drawn forth the will, unlocking and locking it again with a key
suspended to his guard-chain.
"This key was placed in my hand," he said, "during my friend's last
illness, and, although he could not speak to me at the time, his
expressive eye indicated its importance and to what drawer it belonged.
This was before he was removed from the study in which he was stricken,
dear friends, as you may all remember, on Christmas-morning, and which
he never again reentered. From that day to this the key which I wear has
not left my charge, nor been placed in the lock to which it belongs, and
to the guardianship of which this will, as soon as made and legally
attested, was probably committed. We will now, with your permission,
break the seal that I see has been placed upon this document since I
beheld it, the contents of which are already familiar to me." He then
opened and read in a clear, monotonous voice my father's will and its
The property, as I knew already, was all mine by marriage contract,
except such sums as my father had accumulated and set aside from his
yearly income for his own purposes. With these he richly endowed Evelyn
Erle, and comfortably the three servants or attendants, as he preferred
to call them, who had followed him from England, and by their lives of
fidelity and duty shown themselves worthy of his regard. Half of my
estate was already in stocks of the United States Bank, and half loaned
at interest on sound mortgages. This last was to be called in as
speedily as possible and invested also in stocks of the above-mentioned
bank, in that peculiar institution known as the Pennsylvania Bank, and
still supposed to be under Mr. Biddle's superintendence. This was done,
the testator said, to simplify his daughter's property, and render it
more manageable to her hand, should she by her own will remain single,
or by that of Providence be widowed, and he hoped in any case she would
suffer it to remain in this shape as long as Mr. Biddle or Mr. Bainrothe
All this I heard with satisfaction and even indifference, but the part
that stung me almost to exasperation was reserved for the last. Mr.
Bainrothe and Mr. Stanbury were named as executors conjointly with
Evelyn Erie, in the last mentioned of whom all power over my actions was
to vest until I should be of age, and in whose hands, as guardian, Mabel
and her property were exclusively intrusted until that time should
arrive; after that period her sisters were to act jointly, unless my
marriage were made without consent of Evelyn, in which case Mabel was to
be her charge alone.
No security was to be required of either executor, but, across Mr.
Gerald Stanbury's name two lines in ink had been drawn with a wavering
hand, as if for erasure.
I heard this last clause of the will with a beating, bounding, indignant
heart. Evelyn, who so hated Claude Bainrothe, had us both completely in
her power for the present, and might defer our marriage for years if it
so pleased her. And Mabel, toward whom she did not disguise her
indifference, was to be hers on this ground perhaps forever! Slavery for
four of the best years of my life was entailed on me, and bondage
forever on her, perhaps--my idol--my darling--mine--all mine by every
right of man or God!
The injustice was too palpable. It was almost incomprehensible to me how
he had been wrought upon to do these things--he, "a just man made
perfect." All this flashed stunningly across my brain. Suddenly I threw
my hand wildly to my head--the whirl of waters was in my ears; yet I
struggled against the surging tide, and Claude Bainrothe's grasp upon my
hand strengthened and revived me. I was roused from my apathy by hearing
Mr. Gerald Stanbury's loud, sonorous voice speaking out clearly: "I
decline to serve, Mr. Bainrothe, after that erasure. You understand
that, of course. It was a farce to send for me to-day, tinder these
"How could I know, my dear sir, that this erasure had been made?" was
the soft and specious rejoinder. "It must have been done in the last few
months. This will was drawn up in August last. I was ignorant of the
whole subsequent proceeding, and at that time Mr. Monfort laid peculiar
stress on your coincidence as executor. Has any thing occurred since
that time to mar your good understanding?"
"Nothing of any consequence," said Mr. Stanbury, coldly--"nothing
bearing on the esteem of man for man. Nevertheless, Mr. Monfort, as we
all know, was a man easy to offend and difficult to appease, and I
suppose" (he swallowed hard as he spoke) "he weighed old friendship and
some good offices as nothing against his wounded self-love, and against
the flatterers who beset him with their snares."
"Sir, you intend to be insulting, no doubt," Mr. Bainrothe observed,
with a semblance of calm dignity; "but it is not on such an occasion as
this, and in the disinterested discharge of my duty, that I will suffer
myself to be ruffled by the bitter injustice of an irritable and
disappointed old man."
"Be guarded, Mr. Bainrothe," Mr. Stanbury rejoined, "in your expressions
to me, or I will look into that illegal erasure and still stand to my
oar in this golden galley of yours, in which you expect to float with
the stream, and so soon to have every thing your own way. I like plain
sailing, sir; am a plain, straightforward man myself, to whom truth is
second nature; and, were it not for the violence it might do the
feelings of the person chiefly concerned in this testament, so soon to
be allied to you and yours, if I understand things properly and report
speaks truly, I would defy you, Mr. Basil Bainrothe, in the public
courts, and claim my executorship under the wing of the law."
Mr. Bainrothe had turned ashy pale during the deliverance of this fiery
rebuke. But he controlled himself admirably, merely contenting himself
with saying, in a low voice: "No threats, if you please, Mr. Stanbury;
act out your intentions when and where you choose, but have
consideration just now for the feelings of others." And he waved his
hand, trembling with rage, toward me, including in his gesture Evelyn,
who by this time was beside me with her salts, chafing my hands. "I am
sure we are all willing to yield our executorships if Miriam desires
it," she said. "I, for one, should be glad to lift such a yoke from my
shoulders, unaccustomed to such a burden. Mr. Stanbury, desirable as you
seem to think it, this post of mine is no sinecure. But spare Miriam
this scene, I beg of you; she is much overcome--much exhausted;
excitement in her case is very injurious, Dr. Pemberton says. Let me beg
you, my dear sir, to retire. All shall be done properly and in order.
Her interest is our chief concern, of course."
"Evelyn Erle, I have nothing to say to you," I heard Mr. Stanbury
exclaim, in a loud, excited tone. "It is not with women I wish to wage
war, and so understand me! But there is One above to whom you will have
to account rigidly some day for your stewardship and guardianship of
these friendless girls, and be prepared, I counsel you, with your
accounts, to meet Him when the day of reckoning comes! And it may come
sooner than you suspect. I, for one, shall keep an unslumbering eye upon
you and your devices while I live, even though at a distance.--Miriam, I
am always ready to assist you, my dear, in any way possible to me--call
on me freely. Remember, I am your friend." He came to me, he took me to
his breast, he kissed my brow, his tears were on my cheek. I cast my
arms about his dear, old, noble neck; I leaned my quivering face against
his bosom. "I always loved you," I said. "I am so sorry, so sorry, Mr.
Stanbury!" I knew no more--the words forsook my lips. Again that wild
whirl of waters surged upon my ears; I seemed to be falling, falling
down a black, steep, bottomless shaft, beneath which the sea was
roaring--falling head-foremost--hurled as if with a strong impulse down
the abyss to certain destruction.
Then all was still. The jaws of my dark malady had opened to receive me.
I woke as from a long, deep, and unrefreshing slumber. I was lying in my
bed, with the curtains, drawn closely around it--the heavy crimson
curtains, with their white inside draperies and snowy tufted fringes. I
had a vague consciousness that some hand had recently parted them, and
the tassels on the valance were quivering still with the impulse they
had thus received. Then I heard voices.
"How much longer will it endure, Evelyn?"
"Five or six hours, I suppose. What time is it now?" The clock in the
hall struck ten before the question could be answered.
"Ten! It was about three when she was seized," rejoined the voice of
Evelyn; "you can calculate for yourself--the turns are invariably twelve
and twenty-four hours in duration; if one period is transcended the
other is accomplished. Dr. Pemberton himself told me this."
"Might not the term in some way be shortened? I was very sure I heard
her stirring just now, and my heart was in my mouth." After which a
"I knew you were mistaken, but I examined to satisfy your mind. No, she
still lies in a lethargy, and will lie in that comatose condition until
after noon. Then Dr. Pemberton will be here, and she will revive."
"That seizure was very dreadful, but I saw no foam on her lips like most
epileptics, and I watched narrowly."
"There are modifications of the disease, Claude; hers is of a passive
kind, with very few or no convulsive struggles--more like syncope. Had
you not better retire now?"
"Still, it _is_ epilepsy? No, do not banish me yet."
"That is what the doctors call it, I believe, Claude. Dr. Pemberton is
too guarded or politic, one or the other--all Quakers are, you know--to
give it a name, however. Dr. Physick told papa what it was very plainly,
"Ah I he was good authority, certainly a great physician and a
philosopher as well; but, Evelyn, it is very awful," with a groan, and
perhaps a shudder. "Very hard to get over or to bear."
"Yes, and the worst of it is it will increase with age, and the end is
so deplorable--idiocy or madness, you know, invariably. Early death is
desirable for Miriam. Her best friends should not wish to see her life
prolonged. It is an inheritance, probably. Her mother died of some
inscrutable incurable disease, I suppose like this."
"O God! O God! it is almost more than I can stand."
I heard him pacing the room slowly up and down, and my impulse was to
part the curtains, to call him to me and comfort him, but I could not;
I was too weak even to speak as yet, and bound as with a spell, a
A whirl of vivid joy passed through me like an electric flash, however,
as I recognized in his disquietude the strength of his affection.
Evelyn's malignant cruelty and falsehood were lost sight of in the bliss
of this conviction; yet my triumph was but brief.
"Evelyn," he said, speaking low, and pausing in his slow, continued
pace.--"Evelyn, just as she lies there sleeping, I would she could lie
forever! Then happiness could dawn for us again."
"Never, Claude Bainrothe!"
"You are unforgiving, my Evelyn! you have no mercy on me nor my
sufferings. You make no allowance for necessity, or the desperation of
my condition. In debt myself, and so long a cause of expense and anxiety
to my father, whose sacrifices for me have been manifold, and before
whom ruin is grimly yawning even now, how could I act otherwise,
consistently with the duty of a son? Nay, what manhood would there have
been in consigning you to such a fate as awaited penniless wife of mine?
"I did not think of these things, did not know them even, when we first
met, and when I told you of my sudden passion I was sincere, Evelyn,
then, as I am now, for it is unchanged, and you know that it is so.
"When the dark necessity was laid bare to me, and I felt it my duty to
cancel our engagement, you bore it bravely, you kept my counsel, you
assisted me in my projects; you proved yourself all that was noble and
magnanimous in woman. What marvel, then, that I more than ever loved
you, and wished the obstacle removed that divides us, and yearn for my
lost happiness now dearer to me than before, only to be renewed through
you, Evelyn! that I still adore!--woman most beautiful, most beloved!"
"Claude, this is mockery; release my hand; arise, this position becomes
you not, nor yet me. Go! I am lost to you forever! your own cowardice,
your own weak worship of expediency, have been your real obstacles. For
your sake I was willing to brave poverty, debt, expatriation. It was you
who preferred the dross of gold, and the indulgence of your own luxury
and that of the sybarite, your father, to the passionate affection I
bore you. It is too late now for regret or recrimination. Go, I command
you! accomplish your destiny; continue to beguile Miriam with the tale
of your affection, and in return reap your harvest of deluded affection
and golden store from her! and from me receive your guerdon of scorn.
For I, Claude Bainrothe, know you as you are, and despise you utterly!"
Her voice trembled with anger, I knew of old its violent ring of rage.
"No, Evelyn, you only know me as I _seem_"--he spoke mildly,
humbly--"not as I _am_. I am not a very bad man, Evelyn, nor even a very
weak one; in all respects, vile as I appear to you, only a very unhappy
wretch, and as such entitled to your respectful compassion at least--all
I dare ask for now. I will not receive your scorn as my fit guerdon. Is
there no strength in overcoming inclination as I have done, in
compelling words of affection to flow from loathing lips?--for those
scars alone, Evelyn, in contrast to your speckless beauty, would of
themselves be enough to shock a fastidious man like me, those hideous
livid scars which I have yet to behold, and shudder over, marking one
whole side as you assure me of neck, shoulder, and arm, things that in
woman are of such inestimable value, of almost more importance than the
divine face itself."
"Yes, but the other side is statuesque enough to satisfy the
requisitions of a sensuous sculptor," she rejoined, coldly; "you are
wrong, Claude, let us be just! Miriam is very well formed, to say no
more, and her skin is like a magnolia-leaf, where sun and wind have not
touched or tanned it; then those scars will turn white after a while
like the rest, and perhaps scarcely be visible."
"O Heavens! hideous white seams!" he exclaimed, passionately. "I have
seen such, like small-pox marks, only ten times more frightful and
indelible." In his impotent weakness he moaned aloud.
"Worse and worse! I will tell you frankly, had I known of _them_, the
engagement never would have been contracted--no, not though the
_inferno_ had opened beneath me as my only alternative--but honor binds
"You are fastidious truly, and your sense of honor supreme," she
"Beauty there was not," he continued, without regarding her rejoinder,
"in any remarkable degree. I could have borne its absence with common
patience, but absolute disfigurement, deformity, such as you assure me
those burns have left behind them, is too dreadful! Had not Dr.
Pemberton bared her arm in bleeding, as he did, I should never have
known of it at all probably until too late. That one mark was
"You attach too much consequence to mere externals, Claude," said
Evelyn, coldly. "I trust such fastidious notions may be laid at rest
before your marriage, or poor Miriam, with her warm, affectionate, and
unsuspicious nature will be the sufferer. I pity her fate, sincerely."
"No, Evelyn, you wrong me there; I respect and esteem her far too much
ever to wound her feelings. Against this I shall carefully guard. My
bargain would be broken, otherwise. It is a clear case of barter and
sale, you see. One's honor is concerned in keeping such an obligation. I
shall never be ungrateful."
"You have European ideas, you tell me," she said, bitterly; "is this one
"It is, and the least among them, perhaps; yet it is, nevertheless, hard
to overcome positive repulsion."
There was a pause now, during which I could count every throb of my
heart, and throat, and temples--my whole frame was transfigured into an
anvil, on which a thousand tiny hammers seemed to ring. Yet I could not
move, nor speak, nor weep--no wretchedness was ever more supreme than
this cataleptic seizure. Evelyn was the first to break the transient
"Your path is a plain one, Claude Bainrothe; fulfill your contract,
sealed with gold, and bear patiently your selected lot."
"Evelyn, one word--let it be sincere: do you hate and scorn me? Answer
me as you would speak to your own soul."
"No, Claude, no, yet the blow was hard to bear--struck, too, as you must
reflect, so suddenly! Only the day before abandonment, remember, you had
made protestations of such undying constancy. Your conduct was surely
inconstant, at least."
"I make them still, those professions you scorn so deeply."
"Away, false man, lest the sleeper awaken!"
"You say there is no danger of that, and that in their coffins the dead
are not more insensible."
"To see you kneeling at my feet might bring the dead even to life," she
laughed, contemptuously. "I am sick of this drama; be natural for once.
We can both afford to be so now."
"Do not spurn me, Evelyn! Never was my love for you so wild as now." I
heard him kissing her hands passionately, and his voice, as he spoke
these words, was choked with grief.
"O Claude, let my hand go; at least consider appearances. Mrs. Austin
will be here in a moment now; what will she think of you? What am I to
think of such caprice?"
"One word, then, Evelyn--tell me that you forgive me--on such conditions
I will release your hands."
"When I forgive you, Claude, I shall be wholly indifferent to you," she
said, gently. "Do you still claim forgiveness? I am not angry, though,
take that assurance for all comfort. Then, if you will have it" (and I
heard a kiss exchanged), "this confirmation."
"Then you are not wholly indifferent to me, Evelyn?" he said, in eager
tones, "you care for me still--a little?"
"A very little, Claude"--hesitatingly.
"Say that you love me, Evelyn, just once more--I can then die happy."
"Claude Bainrothe, arise--unhand me--this is child's play--let me
breathe freely again. Well do you know I love you. O God! why do you
return to a theme so bitter and profitless to both? Come, let us look
together on Miriam sleeping, and gather strength and courage from such
contemplation. Come, my friend!"
The curtains were lifted--still I lay rigidly and with closed eyelids
before them--not from any notion of my own, but from the helplessness of
my agony and the condition into which I was fast drifting. Once or
twice during the progress of this conversation I had tried to lift my
voice, my hand--both were alike powerless. I lay bound, for a while, in
a cataleptic reverie, and then I passed away once more into darkness and
It was evening when I revived--Dr. Pemberton was sitting beside me,
holding my pulse--Mrs. Austin and Mabel were at the bedside. This was,
at last, the end I craved; of all, I hoped.
"The wine, Mrs. Austin," the doctor said, in low accents.
"Quick! one spoonful instantly. You know how it was before--you were too
slow; she fell back before she could swallow it.--Now another, Miriam.
Say, are you better?"
Most anxiously as my eyes opened and were fixed upon his face, were
these words spoken:
"No, dying, I believe--at least, I hope so!"
The shrieks of the child aroused me to a sense of what I owed myself and
her. "You shall not die, sister Miriam," she cried. "Papa does not want
you--I want you--I will not stay with Evelyn and Claude--I will go down
in the ground too, if you die. My sister, you shall not go to God! I
will hold you tight, if He comes for you. He shall not have my
Miriam--nor His angels either."
Her cries did for me what medicine had failed to do. They tried in vain
to silence her. My pulse returned under the stimulus of emotion. I put
out my hand blindly to Mabel.
"Hush, darling," I said, "I will live for you if I can--ask Dr.
Pemberton to save me."
"You are better, already, Miriam," he whispered. "Mrs. Austin, take
Mabel away until she can be quiet and behave like a lady; her sister is
getting well--tell her I say so. Call Miss Evelyn here, instantly."
"No, no!" with an impatient movement of the hand. "Not Evelyn;" again my
arm fell nervelessly.
"Well, then, don't call her, of course. I will stay a while myself; we
don't want anybody at all, Miriam and I, only each other. Go you and
make that panada ready, and sent it when I ring. Let Charity bring it,
she will do. Keep every one else away."
His word was law in our household in times of illness, and Mabel's cries
were hushed at once by his assurances, and she was led passively away.
She was capable of great self-control on emergencies, like her own dear
sainted mamma, who always thought _first_ what was best for others, and
_afterward_ for herself, if there was room at all for such latter
"You must have revived hours ago," said Dr. Pemberton, after I had
rallied sufficiently to prove to him that my crisis was over, and the
usual symptoms of returning convalescence had been manifested. "I have
marked your seizures narrowly, the periods are perfect--have limited
them to eighteen hours latterly--nay, sometimes to twelve; they used to
be four-and-twenty. You were due back again in port, little craft, at
nine or ten o'clock this morning."
"Back again from where, Dr. Pemberton?"
"How should I know, my dear? Some unknown shore--Hades, perhaps. Who
knows what becomes of the soul when the body is wrapped in stupor or
sleep, any more than when it is dead? You came partially to yourself at
five this afternoon. I had just come in then, having been unavoidably
detained. We administered, or tried to administer, wine--but too
slowly; you fell back again into unconsciousness--drifted off to sea
once more; but this last effort of Nature was successful. It is all very
mysterious to me. Have you no memory of having revived before?"
"Yes, I was conscious for some time this morning--for nearly an hour, I
"At what hour? Who was with you?"
"At ten o'clock. I heard the hall clock strike that hour soon after I
opened my eyes. I counted every stroke. There were persons in the room
at the time, but no one knew of my recovery of consciousness. I lay as
if spellbound. I heard conversation and understood it; I remember every
word of it yet--I shall ever remember it. But, when they came to me, I
was unable to speak or make a sign."
"Unable, or unwilling? I have said before, Miriam, the will has much to
do with all this. It is a sort of magnetic seizure, I sometimes think."
"Both, perhaps, involuntary; but I certainly did not wish to grow
"Yet you wanted to die a while ago--child, child, there is something
wrong here! What is it? Tell me frankly. I heard of the scene with Mr.
Stanbury--the passionate old man was very unwise to excite you so; he
meant well, though, no doubt--he always does. What more has occurred?
Now, tell me candidly--much depends on the truth--has any one been
"Whatever I say to you, Dr. Pemberton, must be under the pledge of
confidence," I replied; "otherwise I shall keep my own counsel."
"Well, then, I overheard some one saying, when I revived this morning,
that I was epileptic, and it troubled me. Now, I call upon you solemnly
to answer me truthfully on this point. Of what character is my
"I do not know--not epilepsy, certainly; partially nervous, I think--one
of Nature's strange safety-valves, I suppose."
"You would not deceive me?"
"Not under present circumstances, surely; not at any time after such an
appeal as yours."
"Did Dr. Physick ever pronounce my disease epilepsy? You consulted
together about it once, I believe. Do tell me the truth about this
matter," laying my hand on his arm.
"Never, so help me God!" he said, earnestly.
"You have relieved me greatly," I said, pressing my lips on that dear
and revered hand which had so often ministered to me and mine in sorest
agony--a hand spotless as the heart within--yet, brown and withered as
the leaves of autumn.
"Now you, in turn, must relieve me," he said, gravely. "Who was it that
alleged these things? They were slanders, and deserve to be nailed to
the wall, and shall be if power be mine to do so."
"I cannot tell you. Do not ask me. It was not asserted that you
pronounced my disease epilepsy, but insinuated that you thought so. Dr.
Physick's opinion was given to confirm this impression."
"Have you traitors in your own household, Miriam?" he asked, sternly.
I was silent--shedding quiet tears, however.
"I have thought so before," he said, low, between his set teeth. "But,
thank God, you can put your foot on them all before very long!--This
seems a nice young man you are going to marry, but I never liked his
father. I say this frankly to you, child; but, in truth, I have had no
sufficient reason for this distaste or prejudice--it is no more, I
confess. You are very much in their hands for the present, I fear; but I
hope they will do you justice."
"I shall not marry Claude Bainrothe," I rejoined at last, firmly. "Let
this be perfectly understood between us two, Dr. Pemberton. That
marriage will never take place!"
"Why, your own father told me you were engaged in October last!"
"I have changed my mind since then. Understand me, I admire Mr.
Bainrothe for many qualities--I am attached to him even; and he is
infinitely to be pitied for some reasons, certainly; but marry him I
"And this is your resolution?"
"It is. But, on second thoughts, I will ask you to keep your knowledge
of it strictly to yourself. I cannot tell you my motives of action now,
but they are good."
"Miriam, you must not ask me to be your confederate in any scheme of
coquetry or caprice such as this concealment points to. You must deal
with this young man openly--no double dealings, my child, or I shall
come to the rescue."
"Have you ever known me to play fast and loose, Dr. Pemberton? Is that
my characteristic? Ask Mr. Gerald Stanbury--ask all who know me--if I
have ever been guilty of deceit, or time-serving, or caprice, or
perfidy. No, Dr. Pemberton, it is on his own account solely that I wish
to keep this matter quiet for the present. Should _he_ wish to proclaim
it, I surely shall not object. But I seek only to shield him from
mortification, from reproach, in the line of conduct that I am
adopting--best for both."
"And to give yourself margin for a change of mind again--little fox! Ah,
Miriam, it is the old story--a lovers' quarrel! I understand it all
perfectly now. Don't be too hard on the young fellow; he seemed very
much in love. Relent in time; he will value your mercy more than your
"Have you ever seen us together, that you pronounce him very much in
love?" I asked, in a hard, cold, subdued voice that startled my own ear,
and made him serious at once.
"Never. But he wears the absent, dreamy air of a lover; even when alone
it is noticeable, Miriam. I can always tell when a man is preoccupied in
"If you could go a little further, and divine the object of such
preoccupation, you would be better prepared to counsel me, dear friend.
He is no lover of mine, I assure you!"
"Ah, the old story again, Miriam! Have patience, my dear child." And,
strong in his belief that my change of resolution arose only from pique
and jealousy, that would soon be over, the good doctor went his way, all
the more ready to keep my secret for such conviction.
I passed a miserable night. The great bed seemed to inclose me like a
sepulchre, which yet I was too feeble, too irresolute, to leave. The
conversation I had heard seemed stereotyped on plates of brass, that
rang like cymbals in my ears. Toward morning I slept. I dreamed that
mamma came to me, and said, in tones so natural that they seemed to
sound in my ears after I had awakened:
"Miriam, your mother and father have sent me to say to you that they
are united and happy. I, too, have found my mate at last. It was for
this I was called. The sea has given up its dead, and I am blessed. Now,
dearest, Mabel is all yours;" and then she kissed me.
I woke with that kiss upon my cheek.
The brief and distinct vision made a deep impression on me. I awoke
refreshed and strengthened, as from a magnetic slumber.
At first, a sense of joy alone possessed me, but soon the great bitter
burden came rolling back upon my soul, like the stone of Sisyphus, which
my sleeping soul had heaved away.
It is a beautiful law of our being, that we rarely dream of that which
occupies and troubles us most in the daytime. Compensation is carried
out in this way, as in many others, insensibly, and the balance of
thought kept equal. I have heard persons complain frequently that they
could not dream of their dead, with whom their waking thoughts were ever
filled. But madness must have been the consequence, had there been no
repose for the mind from one engrossing image.
Relaxation comes to us in dreams at times when the brain needs it most,
and to lose the consciousness of a sorrow is to cast off its burden for
a time, and gain new strength to bear it.
I thought, when I first arose from my bed, that I would write to Claude
Bainrothe, and thus save myself the trial of an interview. But the
necessity of secrecy, in the commencement at least of the rupture, on
his own account, presented itself too forcibly to my mind to permit me
such self-indulgence. I felt assured in the first bitterness of feeling,
that he would lay my letters before Evelyn, from whom I especially
wished, for household peace, to preserve the knowledge of what had
passed in my chamber between herself and him.
I had no wish either to mortify or wound the man I had loved so
tenderly, but from whom I felt now wholly severed, as though the shadow
of a grave had intervened between us.
Never again, never, could he be more to me than a memory, a regret.
Glaring faults, impulsive offenses, _crime_ even it may be, I could have
forgiven, so long as his allegiance had been mine, and his affection
proof against change, but coldness, perfidy, loathing, such as he had
avowed, these could never be redeemed in any way, nor considered other
than they were, insuperable objections to our honorable union.
My heart recoiled from him so utterly, that I could conceive of no fate
more bitter than to be compelled again to receive his profession of
affection, his lover-like caresses; yet, in recoiling, it had been
bruised against its prison-bars, bruised and crushed like a bird that
seeks refuge in the farthest limits of its cage from an approaching foe,
and suffers almost as severely as if given to its fangs.
I determined, after mature consideration, to see him once again,
privately, and beyond the range of all foreign observation and hearing.
In order to do this, I might have to wait, and in the mean time how
should I deport myself, how conceal my change of feeling from his
I was relieved by an unlooked-for contingency. Evelyn announced her
intention of going, as soon as I should be able to spare her, with a
party of young friends, to hear a celebrated singer perform in an
oratorio in the cathedral of an adjacent city, her specialty being
vocal music, and her mourning permitting only sacred concerts. Her own
highly-cultivated voice, it is true, had ill repaid the care that had
been lavished on it, sharp and thin as it was by nature. I urged her to
set forth at once, declaring myself convalescent, but I did not leave my
room, nor see Claude Bainrothe, save for five minutes in her presence,
until after she had gone. Then I was at liberty to work my will.
I wrote on the very evening of her departure, requesting him to defer
his accustomed visit, until the next morning, when I hoped to have an
hour's private conversation with him in the library, a room most dear to
me, once as the chosen haunt of my father, but shunned of late as
vault-like and melancholy, now that his ever-welcome and dear presence
was removed from it forever.
Punctual as the hand to the hour or the dial to the sun, Claude
Bainrothe came at the time I had appointed, and I was there to meet him,
nerved and calm as a spirit of the past, in that great quiet sarcophagus
of books--at least, I so deceived myself to believe. I had made up my
mind, during the time I had been sitting alone in that sombre room, as
to what I would say to him, and how clearly and concisely I would array
my wrongs in words, and pronounce his sentence. But, when he came, all
this was forgotten. A tumult of wild feeling surged through my brain. My
very tongue grew icy, and trembled in my mouth. My eyes were dimmed, and
my forehead was cold and rigid. I was silent from emotion. I felt like a
"You are very pale, Miriam," he said, as he advanced to me with
outstretched hands, and wearing that beaming, candid, devoted look he
knew so well how to assume; "are you sure you are not going to be ill
again, my love? You must be careful of yourself, my own darling; you
must indeed, for my sake, if not your own."
I was strengthened now to speak, by the indignation that possessed me,
at his perfidious words, his wholly artificial manner, which broke on me
as suddenly and as glaringly on the eye as rouge will do on a woman's
cheek in sunshine, which we have thought real bloom in shadow. I
wondered then, how I ever could have been deceived. I wonder less now.
"Sit down, Mr. Bainrothe," I said, coldly, withdrawing my hands quietly
from his grasp, and recovering with my composure my strength. "Do not
concern yourself about my health, I beg. It is quite good just now, and
will probably remain so for some time. My spells occur at distant
"I know how that is, or has been; but we must try to break them up
altogether. We will go to Paris next year, and have the best advice; in
the mean time Dr. Pemberton must try some new remedy for you, or call in
counsel. On this point I am quite determined."
"I am satisfied that Dr. Pemberton, who understands my constitution
thoroughly, is my best adviser. I shall decline all other medical aid,"
I replied. "Nature is on my side--I am young, vigorous, growing still,
probably, in strength, and shall fling off my malady eventually, as a
strong man casts a serpent from his thigh. I have little fear on that
score. Nor do I think, with some others, that my disease is epilepsy;
though, if it were, God knows I should have little need for shame."
"Miriam, what an idea! Epilepsy, indeed!" He was very nervous now, I
saw. "Epilepsy, indeed!"--he faltered again.
"As to those scars, Claude," I said, fixing my eyes upon him, "they
were honorably earned in my sister's service. Your father knows the
details, which I spare your fastidious ear. I cannot wonder, however,
that they shocked you, with your previous feelings to me. I do not like
to look upon them myself, yet I have never felt them a humiliation until
now." I knew that my forehead flushed hotly as I proceeded, and my lips
trembled. The reaction was complete.
"Miriam, what does all this mean?" he asked, rising suddenly from his
seat as pale as ashes, and clinging to the mantel-shelf for support as
he did so.
"It means, Claude Bainrothe," I said, firmly, "it means simply this:
that our engagement is at an end; that you are free from all claims of
mine from this moment, and that henceforth we can only meet as friends
or strangers--as the first, I trust!" I stretched forth my hand toward
him kindly, irresistibly. He did not seem to notice it.
"Who has done this?" he asked, huskily. "Evelyn? This is her work, I
feel; a piece of her bitter vengeance! Tell me the truth,
Miriam--who has done this devil's mischief?"
He suffered greatly, I saw--was terribly excited.
"So far from your surmise being just, Claude, I enjoin upon you, as a
man of honor, never to let her know the subject of this conference, in
which she has had no voluntary part. Placed as I am by my father's will,
which I never will gainsay, however bitter it may be to me; bound hand
and foot; indeed, in her power by its decisions for a term of years, her
knowledge of the fact that I had overheard her conversation with you in
my chamber when I lay stricken, helpless, if not unconscious (an
unwilling listener, I assure you, Claude, to every word you uttered),
would be a cause of endless misery to me and her. No, Evelyn has told me
nothing, believe me."
He staggered back from the mantel to his chair, sat down again
helplessly, and covered his face with his hands. The blush of shame
mounted above his fingers and crimsoned the very roots of his silken
hair. He trembled visibly.
O God! how I pitied him then! Self sank out of sight at that moment, and
I thought only of his confusion. Had I obeyed my impulse, I would have
cast my arms about his neck as about a brother's, and whispered, to that
stormy nature, "Peace, be still!" But I refrained from a manifestation
that might have deceived him utterly as to its source. I only said:
"I am very sorry, Claude, for all this; but bear it like a man. Believe
me, no one shall ever know the occasion of this rupture--the management
of which I leave entirely in your hands. Of what I overheard I shall
never speak, I promise you, even though sorely pressed for my reasons
for our separation. My own pride would prevent such a revelation, you
know, putting principle aside." And again I extended my hand to him
frankly, with the words, "Let us be friends."
He had glanced up a moment while I was speaking, evidently relieved by
my voluntary promise. He took my hand humbly now, and reverently kissed
it, bowing his head above it long and mutely.
"My poor, outraged, offended, noble Miriam!" I heard him murmur at last.
The words affected me.
"I am all these, Claude," I said, withdrawing my hand gently but firmly,
"but none the less your friend, if you will have it so. And now let us
think what will be best for you to do. I wish to spare your feelings as
much as possible, and I will say all I can with truth to exonerate you
in your father's eyes. Go to Copenhagen, as you proposed at one time to
do, and leave the rest to me. That will be best, I think."
"To Copenhagen!" he exclaimed. "You issue thus coldly your edict of
banishment! Are you implacable then, Miriam?" and the cold dew stood in
beads on his now pallid brow as he rose before me. He had not fully
realized his situation until now.
"'Implacable' is scarcely the word for this occasion, Claude. It implies
anger or hatred, it seems to me. Now, I feel neither of these--only the
"Your anger, your hatred, were far more welcome, Miriam--more natural
under the circumstances. This cool philosophy in one so young is
monstrous! Mock me no longer with your calm compassion--it maddens
me--it sinks me below contempt!"
He spoke gloomily, angrily, pushing away the clustering hair from his
brow in the way peculiar to him when excited, as he proceeded, stamping
slightly with his foot on the marble hearthstone in his impotent way. I
could but smile!
"I will not offend you further, Claude," I said, mildly. "Receive your
ring;" and I gave him back the diamond cross on a black enamel ground
set on its circle of gold that he had placed upon my finger as a pledge
of our betrothal; an ominous one, surely--for another cross was now to
"Understand me distinctly, Claude, all is finally at an end between us
from this forever more! And now, farewell!"
"Go, Miriam, go!" he murmured. "Leave me to my fate--I have deserved it
all, and more. I have been weak and wicked--you shall not find me
ungrateful. Go, queenly spirit! go, soul of tenderness, pity, and most
unselfish faith, that ever folded its wings in human breast! go, and
find a fitter mate! For me, the world is wide, I shall offend your gaze
Without another word I left him. I could not trust myself to speak. Too
much of the past returned to render any further intercourse between us
wise, or other than torture at that season. Besides, my confidence in
him was gone forever, and with it had vanished respect, esteem,
"What is this Claude is talking of, Miriam?" asked Mr. Bainrothe a day
or two after the interview I have described in my last pages.
"Copenhagen again--and he seems quite dispirited. He says you have sent
him into banishment for a year, Miriam--a long probation truly!"
"Our engagement was to have been for that length of time from the
first," I said, evasively; "my father was not willing for me to marry
before I had attained my seventeenth year, you remember, and it still
wants some months of that period."
"Oh, yes! but all that is changed now by the force of circumstances. You
are so well grown, so very womanly for your age, that I cannot see why
it would not be just as well to shorten rather than lengthen the period
of your engagement, especially as it seems Claude must go into exile
until then, by some caprice of yours. You will be at the head of your
own house too, after that ceremony takes place, which Claude is so
impatient to have over. Evelyn would go to England for a time under such
circumstances, for she will not oppose your views--your father's will
was made before your betrothal to my son, or he would scarcely have made
her your absolute guardian" (apologetically spoken). "For the matter of
that," he pursued, "I cannot doubt that, were you settled in life, she
would gladly transfer Mabel to your care. Indeed, I have heard her say
"A great temptation, truly!" I said, grimly.
"Your manner is peculiar to-day, Miriam. I cannot understand it, I
"For all explanation, Mr. Bainrothe, I refer you to your son. I prefer
not to discuss the matter."
"Ah! it is just as I expected, from his behavior as well as your own.
Some childish misunderstanding has taken place between you, which, he
was loath to acknowledge or explain, but which in your womanly candor
you will reveal at once, and tell me all about it. I am the very best
mediator you ever saw on such occasions," with a bland and confident
air, taking my hand, smiling.
"Mr. Bainrothe, your mediation could effect nothing between me and
Claude; we understand one another perfectly, I assure you."
He was very much excited now, evidently; he relinquished my unwilling
hand coldly--on which he had, doubtless, missed the conspicuous ring,
significant of my engagement. His chameleon eyes seemed to emit sparks
of phosphorescent fire, as if every one of the dull-yellow sparks
therein had become suddenly ignited. I saw then, for the first time,
what his ire could be, and what reason I had to dread it.
"Have I been deceived in believing that you were attached to my son,
Miriam Monfort, and that you meant to keep faith with him?" he asked,
"You have not been deceived, Mr. Bainrothe, nor is it my wish to deceive
you now. Again I beg to refer you to him for all explanation; whatever
he alleges will be highly satisfactory to me."
"I will bet my life," he said, passionately, "that Evelyn Erle is at the
root of all this! That girl," he soliloquized, "who knew so well, from
the first, what our intentions were; to throw herself at his head in the
shameless way she did! A woman, without a woman's modesty."
"Beware, Mr. Bainrothe," I interrupted; "it is of my sister you speak. I
will not hear her slandered. Certainly, if propriety ever assumed female
form, it is in that of Evelyn Erie. This was my father's opinion--it is
"Propriety! The pale ghost of it rather," he sneered; "I thought you
hated hypocrisy; you do not love that woman--have little right to; yet
you praise and defend her. How is this! Are you sincere in such a
course? Ask your own heart."
"Mr. Bainrothe, let us not discuss Evelyn, I beg, either now or
hereafter; for some reason she is very sacred to me. I cannot say one
word more on the subject of your son than I have said, without his own
consent. As to our marriage, let me tell you frankly--" I hesitated--the
stricture of my throat, for a moment, interrupted me, and I was ashamed
of my weakness.
"That it is indefinitely postponed, I suppose you would like to say,
Miriam," he added, ironically. "Well, I honor your emotion; don't be
ashamed of it. Claude is to blame, no doubt; but the poor fellow suffers
enough already, without prolonged punishment. Suppose I send him up to
you; he will fall at your feet."
I shook my head silently.
"Now, don't be hard-hearted; I have never seen any man more devoted
than he is to you. A woman must forgive a few shortcomings, now and
then, in one of our faulty sex. You lived so long with a man who was
almost perfect, that you cannot make allowances for impulsive and
indiscreet young manhood. What has poor Claude been guilty of?"
"I will tell you," I said, recovering myself by the time this speech was
ended, by a mighty effort. "I will tell you: Guilty only of doing
violence to his own inclinations, from a mistaken sense of duty to his
father; that is all. I never felt more kindly--more affectionately to
Back to Full Books