Catherine A. Warfield
Part 7 out of 9
A new element was infused into my solitude from this time. In this child
I lived, breathed, and had my being, until later events startled my
individuality once more into its old currents of existence. Not that I
merged myself entirely in Ernie, sickly, wayward, fitful, ugly little
mite that he was undeniably. Nay, rather did I draw him forcibly into my
own sphere of being and find nutrition in this novel element.
So grudgingly had Nature fulfilled her obligations in the case of this
poor stunted infant, that, at two and a half years of age, he had not
the usual complement of teeth due a child of eighteen months, and was
suffering sorely from the pointing up of tardy stomach-teeth through
To attend to and heal his bodily ailments occupied me entirely at first,
and finally, finding him ill cared for, I made him a little pallet on my
sofa and kept him with me by night and day. Surely such devotion as he
manifested in return for my scant kindness to him few mothers have
received from their offspring. To sit silently at my feet while I talked
to him, or do my bidding, seemed his chief pleasures, as they might not,
could not have been, had he been strong, and active, and more soundly
constituted. As it was, no more loyal creature existed, nor did the
Creator ever enshrine deeper affections or quicker perceptions in any
childish frame. Weird, and wise, and witty as Aesop was this child, like
him deformed; and to draw out his quaint remarks, read him fresh from
his Maker's hand--this warped, and tiny, imperfect volume of
humanity--was to me an ever-new puzzle and delight. Severity he had been
used to of late, I saw plainly. He shrank with winking eyes from an
uplifted hand, even if the gesture were one of mere amazement, or
affection, and sat patiently, like a little well-trained dog, when he
saw food placed before me, until invited to partake thereof. His manner
was wistful and deprecating even to pathos, and I longed for one burst
of passion, one evidence of self-will, to prove to myself that I, like
others he had been recently thrown with, was not the meanest of all
created creatures--a baby's despot!
Oh, better than this the cap and bells, and infant tyranny forever, and
the wildest freaks of baby folly. He suffered silently, as I have seen
no other child do, uncomplainingly even, and at such times would sink
into moods of the blackest gloom, like those of an old, gouty subject.
Hypochondria, baby as he was, seemed already to have fixed his fangs
upon him. He had days of profound melancholy, when nothing provoked a
smile, and others of bitter, silent fretting, inconceivably distressing;
again there were periods of the wildest joy, only restrained by that
reticence which had become habitual, from positive boisterousness.
All this I could have compelled into subservience, of course, by
substituting fear for affection. It is not a difficult matter for the
strong and cunning to cow and crush the spirit of a little child; no
great achievement, after all, nor proof of power, though many boast of
it as such. Strength and hardness of heart are all one requires for
this external victory; but human souls are not to be so governed (God be
praised for this!), and love and respect are not to be compelled.
It is the error of all errors to suppose that, because a child has a
sickly frame or imperfect animal organization, it is just or profitable
to give it over to its own devices, and consign it to indolence and
ignorance. Alas! the vacancy that begets fretfulness, and crude,
capricious desires, the confusion of images that arises from partial
understanding, are far more wearing to the nerves of an intelligent
infant than the small labor the brain undertakes, if any, indeed, be
needed, in mastering ideas properly presented, and suitable to the
condition of the sufferer. One might as well forbid the hand to grasp,
the eye to see, nay, more, it will not do to confound the child of
genius with the fool, or to suppose that the one needs not a mental
aliment of which the other is incapable. Feed well the hungry mind, lest
it perish of inanition. It is a sponge in infancy that imbibes ideas
without an effort; it is a safety-valve through which fancy and poetry
conduct away foul vapors; it is an alembic, retaining only the pure and
valuable of all that is poured into it, to be stored for future use. It
is a lightning-rod that conducts away from the body all superfluous
electricity. It does not harm a sensible child to put it to study early,
but it destroys a dull one. Let your poor soil lie fallow, but harvest
your rich mould, and you shall be repaid, without harm to its fertility.
Ideas were balm to Ernie, even as regarded his physical suffering. His
enthusiasm rose above it and carried him to other spheres.
Some illustrated volumes of "Wilson's Ornithology," which I found in
the bookcase, proved to be oil on troubled waters in Ernie's case; and
before long he knew, without an effort, the name of every bird in the
two folios of prints, and would come of his own accord to repeat and
point them out to me.
I found, to my amazement, that, when a cage of canaries was brought in
and hung in the bath-room at my request for his amusement, he
discriminated and gravely averred that no birds like those were to be
found in his big book, though yellow hammers and orioles were there in
their native colors, that might have deceived a less observant eye into
a delusion as to their identity with our pretty importation.
Verses, remarkable for rhyme and rhythm both, when repeated to him a few
times with scanning emphasis, took root in that fertile brain which
piled his compact forehead so powerfully above his piercing, deep-set
eyes, and fell from his infant lips in silvery melody as effortless and
spontaneous as the trickling of water or the singing of birds in the
Day by day I saw the little, wistful face relaxing from the hard-knot
expression, so to speak, of sour and serious suffering, and assuming
something akin to baby joyousness, and the small, warped figure, so low
that it walked under my dropped and level hand, acquiring security of
step and erectness of bearing. I knew little of the treatment required
for spinal disease, but common-sense taught me that, in order to effect
a cure, the vertebral column must be relieved as much as possible from
pressure, and allowed to rest. So I persuaded him to lie down a great
part of the time, and contrived for him a little sustaining brace to
relieve him when he walked.
I fed him carefully; I bathed him tenderly, and rubbed his weary,
aching limbs to rest, so that before many weeks the change was
surprising, and the success of my treatment evident to all who saw
him--the comprehensive "all" being myself and two attendants.
Dr. Englehart had been suggested in the beginning by Mrs. Clayton, as
his medical attendant, but rejected by me with a shudder, that seemed
conclusive; yet one evening, unsummoned by me, and as far as I knew by
any other, he walked calmly into my apartment, ostensibly to see the
little invalid--his charge as well as mine.
For a moment the extravagant idea possessed me that, in spite of
appearances, I had done this man injustice, and that he came in reality
for humane purposes alone; wore his disguise for these.
This delusion was soon dissipated, as with audacity (no doubt
characteristic, though not before evidenced to me), he seated himself
complacently and uninvited, and, disposing of his hat and stick, settled
himself down for a _tete-a-tete_, an affair which, if medical, usually
partakes of the confidential.
"Your little _protege_, Miss Monfort," he said, huskily, "seems to be a
serious sufferer," and for a moment dropping his accent while he rubbed
his gloved hands together as with an ill-repressed self-gratification;
"come, tell me now what you are doing for his benefit," again
artistically assuming a foreign accentuation.
In a few words I described my course of treatment and its success.
"All very well," he responded, hoarsely, "as far as it goes; but I am
convinced that much severer treatment will be necessaire--"
"I think not," I replied, curtly; "and certainly nothing of the kind
will be permitted by me while I have charge of this poor infant."
"A few leetle pills, then, for both mother and child;" he suggested,
"You are mistaken if you imagine any relationship to exist between Ernie
and myself," I answered, calmly, never dreaming at the moment of covert
or intended insult. "I might as well inform you at once, that I am Miss,
not Mrs. Monfort; you should be guarded how you make mistakes of that
And my eye flashed fire, I felt, for I now heard him chuckling low in
the shadow, in which he so carefully concealed himself.
"I shall remembair vat you say," he observed, "and try to do bettair
next visit; but all dis time I delay in de execution of my mission here.
See, I have brought you von lettair; now vat will you do to reward me?"
Holding it high above my head, in a manner meant, no doubt, to be
playful, and to suggest a game of snatch, perhaps, such as his peers
might have afforded him, he displayed his treasure to my longing eyes,
but I sat with folded arms.
"If the letter brings me good news, I shall thank you warmly, Dr.
Englehart; if not, I shall try to believe you unconscious of its
"Tanks from your lips would, indeed, seem priceless," he remarked,
courteously, as with many bows and shrugs he laid it on the table before
me, bringing his shaggy head by such means much closer to my hand than I
cared to know it should be, under any circumstances.
With a gesture of inexpressible disgust, regretted the next moment, as I
reflected that, to bring me this letter, he might be overstepping common
rules, I raised the envelope to the light and recognized, to my intense
disappointment, the well-known characters of Bainrothe's--small, rigid,
My heart, which a moment before had beat audibly to my own ear, sank
like a stone in my breast, and I sat for a time holding the letter
mutely, uncertain how to proceed. Should I return it unread, and thus
hurl the gauntlet in the traitor's face, or be governed by expedience
(word ever so despised by me of old), and trace the venom of the viper,
by his trail, back to his native den?
After a brief conflict of feeling, I determined on the wiser
course--that of self-humiliation as a measure of profound policy.
I broke the seal, the well-known "dove-and-vulture" effigy which he
called in heraldry "The quarry" and claimed as his rightful crest. Very
significantly, indeed, did it strike me now, though I had jested on the
subject so merrily of old with Evelyn and George Gaston.
The letter was of very recent date, and ran as follows--I have the
original still, and this is an exact copy:
"On September 1st, or as soon thereafter as feasible, I shall call to
see you, Miriam, in your retirement, which I am glad to hear has so far
been beneficial. Should I find you in a condition to _make_ conditions,
I shall lay before you a very advantageous offer of marriage I had
received for you before your shipwreck. Should you accept this offer,
and attach your signature to a few papers that I shall bring with me
(papers important to the respectability of your whole family as well as
my own), I shall at once resign to you your father's house and the
guardianship of Mabel. The chimera that alarmed you to frenzy can have
no further existence, either in fact or fancy. I am about to contract an
advantageous marriage with a foreign lady of rank, wealth, and beauty,
to whom I hope soon to introduce you.. I need not mention her name, if
you are wise. Be patient and cheerful; cultivate your talents, and take
care of your good looks--no woman can afford to dispense with these,
however gifted; and you will soon find yourself as free as that
'chartered libertine' the air, for which last two words I am afraid you
will be malicious enough to substitute the name you will not find
appended, of your true friend and guardian, B.B."
Had Wentworth spoken, then? Did he know of my immurement? Was it his
beloved presence, his dear hand, that were to be made the prize of my
silence and submission? Was the bitter pill of humiliation I was now
swallowing to be gilded thus? No, no--a thousand times, no! He was not
the man with whom to make such conditions--the man I loved--nay
worshiped almost. He was of the old heroic mould, that would have
preferred any certainty to suspense, and death itself to an instant's
He deemed me dead, and the obstacle that had risen between us needed no
explanation now. The waves had swallowed all necessities like this. But,
had he known me the inmate of a mad-house, no bolts or bars would have
withheld him from my presence. His own eyes could alone have convinced
him of such ruin as was alleged against me by these friends.
From this survey of my utter helplessness I turned suddenly to confront
the deep, dark, salient eyes of the disciple of Hahnemann, real or
pretended, fixed upon me with a glance that even his blue spectacles
could not deprive of its subtle intensity.
Where had I seen before orbs of the same snake-like peculiarity of
expression, or caught the outline of the profile which suddenly riveted
my gaze as the light partially revealed it, then subsided into shadow
again? I pondered this question for a moment while Dr. Englehart,
silent, expectant perhaps, stood with his hand tightly grasping the back
of a chair, on the seat of which he reposed one knee, in a position such
as defiant school-boys often assume before a pedagogue.
As I have said, his head and body were again in shadow, as was, indeed,
most of the chamber, for the rays which struggled through the thick
ground glass of my astral lamp were as mild as moonbeams, and as
unsatisfactory. But the light fell strong and red beneath the shade, and
the full glare of the astral lamp seemed centred on that pudgy hand, in
its inevitable glove, that had fixed so firm a gripe on the back of the
mahogany chair as to strain open one of the fingers of the tight, tawny
kid-glove worn by Dr. Englehart. This had parted slightly just above the
knuckle of the front-finger, and revealed the cotton stuffing within.
Nay, more, the ruby ring with its peculiar device was thus exposed,
which graced the slender finger of the charlatan! I do not apply this
term as concerned the profession he affected at all, but merely (as
shall be seen later) as one appropriate to himself individually.
There must be beings of all kinds to constitute a world, philosophers
tell us, and he, no doubt, so long in ignorance of it, had stumbled
suddenly on his proper vocation at last. The _role_ he was playing (so
far successfully) had doubtless been the occasion of an exquisite
delight to him, unknown to simpler mortals, who masquerade not without
dread misgivings of detection. I for one, when affecting any costume not
essentially belonging to me, or covering my face even with a paper-mask
for holiday diversion, have had a feeling of unusual transparency and
obviousness, so to speak, which precluded on my part every thing like a
successful maintenance of the part I was attempting to play. It was as
if some mocking voice was saying: "This is Miriam Monfort, the true
Miriam; the person you have known before as such was only making
believe--but the Simon-pure is before you, a volume of folly that all
who run may read! Behold her--she was never half so evident before!"
But to digress thus in the very moment of detection, of recognition,
seems irrelevant. The flash of conviction was as instantaneous in its
action in my mind as that of the lightning when it strikes its object. I
stood confounded, yet enlightened, all ablaze!--but the subject of this
discovery did not seem in the least to apprehend it, or to believe it
possible, in his mad, mole-like effrontery of self-sufficiency, that by
his own track he could be betrayed.
"Vat ansair shall I bear to Mr. Bainrothe from his vard?" asked the
Mercury of my Jove, clasping his costumed hands together, then dropping
them meekly before him. "I vait de reply of Miss Monfort vid patience.
Dere is pen, and ink, and papair, I perceive, on dat table. Be good
enough to write at once your reply to de vise conditions of your
"You know them, then?" I said, quickly, glancing at him with a derisive
scorn that did not escape his observation.
"I have dat honnair," was the hypocritical reply, accompanied by a
"Disgrace, rather," I substituted. "But you have your own stand-point of
view, of course. The shield that to you is white, to me is black as
Erebus. You remember the knights of fable?"
"Always the same--always indomitable!" I heard him murmur, so low that
it was marvelous how the words reached my ear, tense as was every sense
with disdainful excitement. Yet he simply said aloud, after his
impulsive stage-whisper: "Excuse me! I understand not your allusions. I
pretend not to de classics; my leetle pills--" and he hesitated, or
affected to do so.
"Enough--I waive all apologies; they only prolong an interview
singularly distasteful to me for many reasons. You are behind the
curtain, I cannot doubt, and understand not only the contents of that
absurd letter, but its unprincipled references. To Basil Bainrothe I
will never address one line; but you may say to him that I scorn him and
his conditions. Yet, helpless as I am, and in his hands, tell him to
bring his emancipation papers, and I will sign them, though they cost me
all I possess of property. My sister I will not surrender any longer to
his care, nor my right in her, which, with or without his consent, is
perfect when I reach my majority. As to the suitor to whom he alluded,
he had better be allowed to speak for himself when this transaction is
over. I shall then decide very calmly on his merits, tarnished, as these
might seem, from such recommendation."
"He is one who has loved you long, lady," said the man, sadly, speaking
ever in that made and husky voice (wonderful actor that he was by
nature!), which he sustained so well that, had I not unmistakably
identified him, it might have imposed on my ear as real. "Hear what has
been written on this subject: When others have forsaken you and left you
to your fate, he has continued faithful to your memory. The revelation
of your immurement was made simultaneously to two men who called
themselves your lovers, and its sad necessity explained by your
ever-watchful guardian. One of these lovers repudiated your claims upon
him, and turned coldly from the idea of uniting his fate to that of one
who had even for an hour been a suspected lunatic; the other declared
himself willing to take her as she was to his arms, even though her own
were loaded with the chains of a mad-house! Penniless and abandoned by
all the world, and with a clouded name, he woos her as his wife--the
woman he adores!"
And, as he read, or seemed to read, these words, with scarce an accent
to mar their impetuous flow, Dr. Englehart drew in his breath with the
hissing sound of passion, and folded his arms tightly across his padded
breast, as if they enfolded the bride he was suing for in another's
"And who, let me ask, is this Paladin of chivalry?" I inquired,
derisively. "Give me his name, that I may consider the subject well and
thoroughly before we meet at last."
"Excuse me if I refuse to give the name of eider of dese gentlemen at
dis onhappy season," he rejoined. "Wen de brain is all right
again"--tapping his own forehead--"your guardian will conduct the
faithful knight to kneel at de feet of her he loves so well."
"And the other--where is he?" fell involuntarily from my lips--my
heaving heart--an inquiry that I regretted as soon as it was uttered;
for, affecting sorrowful mystery, the man inclined himself toward me and
whispered in my ear confidentially:
"Plighted to another, and gone where no eyes of yours shall rest on him
"Pander--liar--spy!" burst from my passionate lips as in all the fury of
desperation I turned from the creature who had so wantonly wounded my
self-respect, and waved to him to begone. Another name quivered on my
lips, but I checked it on their threshold after that first burst of
indignation instantly subdued.
I was not brave enough nor strong enough to hazard a shaft like that
which might have been returned to me so deathfully. I would let the
barrier stand which he had erected between us, and which to demolish
would be to lay myself open, perhaps, to insult of the darkest
Let the ostrich with his head in the sand still imagine himself unseen;
the masquerader still conceive himself secure beneath his paper
travesty; the serpent still coil apparently unrecognized beside the
bare, gray stone that reveals him to the eye--I was too cowardly, too
feeble, to cope with strategy and double-dyed duplicity like this!
So the man went his way with his silly secret undiscovered, as he
deemed, and that it might remain so to the end, as far as he could know,
I devoutly prayed. For I knew of old the unscrupulous lengths to which,
when nerved by hate or disappointment or passions of any kind, he could
go, without a particle of mercy for his victims or remorse for his
When Dr. Englehart was gone--for so I still choose to call him for some
reasons, although I give my reader credit for still more astuteness than
I possessed myself, and believe that he has long ago recognized, through
this cloud of mystery and travesty thrown about him, an old
acquaintance--the child Ernie rose from the bed on which he had lain
tremulous and observant, with his small hands clinched, his eyes on
fire. "Ernie kill bad man!" he exclaimed, ferociously, "for trouble
missy. Give Ernie letter--he carry it away and hide it; bad letter--make
poor Mirry cry."
"No, Ernie, I will keep it," I said, as I laid it carefully aside. "It
shall stand as a sign and testimony of treachery to the end. Go to
sleep, little child; but first say your prayers, so that the good angels
may sit by you all night. Don't you hear Mrs. Clayton groaning? Poor
Clayton! I must go and comfort her and soothe her pains, as Dinah cannot
do. And, now that the bad doctor is gone home, and we are all locked up
again securely, we shall rest peacefully, I trust; and so, good-night!"
From being the most silent of children, a perfect creep-mouse in every
way, Ernie had become fearfully loquacious under my care, and was now as
talkative as he had ever been observant.
The action that most children develop through exercise of limb had been
reserved for his untiring tongue. He had literally learned to talk from
hearing me read aloud, which I did daily, much to Mrs. Clayton's delight
and edification, for the benefit of my own lungs, which suffered from
such confirmed silence, as I had at first indulged in. His exquisite
ear--his prodigious memory--aided him in the acquirement of words, and
even long and difficult sentences, of which he delivered himself
oracularly when engaged with his blocks and dominoes.
He told himself wonderful stories in which the "buful faiwry" and
"hollible" giant of the story-books figured largely. I am almost ashamed
to acknowledge that I would hold my breath and strain my ear at times to
listen to these murmured stories, self-addressed, as I have never done
to receive the finest ebullitions of eloquence or the veriest marvels of
the _raconteur_. There was something so sweet, so wondrous to me in this
little, ever-babbling baby-brain fountain, content with its own music,
having no thought of auditors or effect, no care for appreciation,
totally self-addressed and self-absorbed, that I was never weary of
giving it my ear and interest. Had the child known of or perceived this,
the effect would have been destroyed, and a fatal self-consciousness
have been instituted instead of this lotus-eating infantile
_abandon_--the very existence of which mood indicated genius. What poor
Ernie's father might have been I could only surmise from his own
qualities, which, after all, may have flowed from a far-off source; but
that his mother had been gentle, simple, and inefficient, I knew full
well, from my slight acquaintance with her, and observation of her
non-resisting organization. Ernie, on the contrary, grappled with
obstacles uncomplainingly, and was only outspoken in his moments of
gratification. His was the temperament that is the noblest and the most
magnanimous in its very moulding. Whining children are selfish, as a
rule, and petty-minded, and most often incapable of enjoyment--which
last is a gift of itself that goes not always with possession.
Among other accomplishments self-acquired, Ernie had the power of
mimicry to a singular degree. Mrs. Clayton had a slight hitch in her
gait of late from rheumatic suffering, which he simulated solemnly,
notwithstanding every effort on my part to restrain him.
Without a smile or any effort of mirth, he would limp behind as she
walked across the floor, unconscious of his close attendance, and when
she would turn suddenly and detect him, and shake her clinched fist at
him, half in jest, he would retaliate by a similar gesture, and scowl,
and stamp of the foot, that so nearly resembled her own proceedings as
to cause me much internal merriment. But of course for his own
advantage, as well as from regard for her feelings, it was necessary for
me on such occasions to assume a gravity of deportment bordering on
It may be supposed, then, that when, on the morning after Dr.
Englehart's visit, before my chamber had been swept and garnished, and
while Mrs. Clayton was busy in her own, Ernie brought me a letter and
laid it on the table before me, as Dr. Englehart had done the night
before in his presence, I was infinitely amused.
What, then, was my surprise in stooping over it to find this letter
addressed to myself in the unfamiliar yet never-to-be-forgotten
character of Wardour Wentworth!
After the first moment of bewilderment I opened the already-fastened
letter--closed, as was the fashion of the day, without envelope, and
sealed originally with wax, of which a few fragments still remained
The date, the subject, the earnest contents, convinced me that I now
held the clew of that mystery which had baffled me so long, and that the
missing letter said to have been lost at Le Noir's Landing was at last
in my possession. It needed not this additional proof of treachery to
convince me that my suspicions had been correct, and that, next to the
arch-fiend. Bainrothe, I owed the greatest misery of my life to him who,
in his ill-adjusted disguise, had dropped this letter from his pocket on
the preceding evening--my evil genius, Dr. Englehart--_alias_ Luke
It was a gracious thing in God to permit me to owe the great happiness
of this discovery to the little crippled child he had cast upon my care
so mysteriously, and I failed not to render to him with other grateful
acknowledgments "most humble and hearty thanks" for this crowning grace.
Henceforth Hope should lend her torch to light my dearth--her wings to
bear me up--her anchor wherewith to moor my hark of life wherever cast,
and to the poor waif I cherished I owed this immeasurable good. Had Mrs.
Clayton anticipated him with her infallible besom--that housewifely
detective, that drags more secrets to light than ever did paid
policeman--I should never have grasped this talisman of love and hope,
never have waked up as I did wake up from that hour to the endurance
which immortalizes endeavor, and renders patience almost pleasurable.
On the back of this well-worn letter was a pencil-scrawl, which,
although I read it last, I present first to my reader, that he may trace
link by link the chain of villainy that bound together my two
It was in the small, clear calligraphy of Basil Bainrothe, before
described; characterized, I believe, as a back-hand--and thus it ran:
"You are right--it was a master-stroke! Keep them in ignorance of each
other, and all will yet go well. I sail to-morrow, and have only time to
inclose this with a pencilled line. Try and head them at New York. My
first idea was the best--my reason I will explain later.
"Yours truly, B.B.
"N.B.--The man could not have played into our hands better than by
taking up such an impression. There is no one there to undeceive him."
"My Miriam: Your note, through the hands of Mr. Gregory, has been
received--read, noted, pondered over with pain and amazement. The avowal
of your name so uselessly withheld from me, lets in a whole flood of
light, blinding and dazzling, too, on a subject that fills me with
"There have been strange reserves between us that never ought to have
existed, on my part as well as yours. I should have told you that I once
had a half-sister, called Constance Glen--older than myself by many
years--who married during my long absence from our native land a
gentleman much older than herself, an Englishman by the name of Monfort,
and, after giving birth to a daughter, died suddenly. These particulars
I gathered from strangers, but there were many wanting which you can
best supply. I know that this gentleman had a daughter, or daughters, by
an earlier marriage--and I can find no clew to the date of my sister's
marriage--which might in itself determine the possible age of her own
daughter. That this child survived I have painful cause to remember. I
had sustained shipwreck, and was in abeyance for clothes and money both,
when it occurred to me to call on my brother-in-law, present to him my
credentials, and remain a few days at his house as his guest, in the
enjoyment of my sister's society, until my needs could be supplied from
certain resources at a distance. The reception I met with from his elder
daughter, and the information she haughtily gave me, determined my
course. I sought no more the inhospitable roof of Mr. Monfort, to find
shelter beneath which I had forfeited all claim by the death of my
sister, then first suddenly revealed to me. Her child, I was told, had
been recently injured by burning and could not be seen, even by so near
a relative, and the manner of the young lady, whom I now identify as
Evelyn Monfort, was such as to lead me at the time to believe this a
mere excuse or evasion, which I did not seek to oppose.
"It is just possible that there may be a third sister, yet I think I
have heard you say you had but one, and this reminiscence is anguish to
my mind. Even more, the careless and unwarrantable allusions of Mr.
Gregory to certain scars, evidently from burns that he had the insolence
to observe on your neck and arms, and remark upon as mere foils to their
beauty, in my first acquaintance with you and before I had a right to
silence him, recurred to me as a partial confirmation of my fears.
Without explaining to him my motives, I questioned him on this subject
again soon after he handed me your note, a proceeding that I should have
shrunk from as gross and unworthy of a gentleman under any other
circumstances. I did not stop to think what impression my inquiries
would leave upon his mind, ever prone to levity and suspicion; but he
must have seen that I was deeply moved, and that no impertinent
curiosity could sway me to such a course with regard to the woman I
loved and had openly declared my plighted wife. You will understand all
this and make allowance for me. Write to me immediately, and relieve, if
possible, my intense solicitude. At all events, let me know the truth,
and look it in the face as soon as may be. Any reality is better than
suspense. Yet I must 'hope against hope,' or surrender wholly. I have
not time to write another line. My business is imperative, or I should
certainly retrace my steps.
"Yours eternally, Wentworth."
The man who wrote this letter was capable of condensing in a few calm
words a world of passion, whether he spoke or wrote them; but he had
governed his pen carefully in his agonizing uncertainty. It was yet to
be determined when he penned these lines whether he should be
considered a lover addressing his mistress, or an uncle writing to his
niece, and in this bitter perplexity he commanded his inclinations to
the side of principle.
I wept with tears of joy and thankfulness above this constrained
epistle--I pressed it to my heart, my lips, a thousand times, in the
quiet hours of night, in the moments of retirement my jailer granted me.
The child Ernie alone saw and wondered at these manifestations of which
I first saw the extravagance through his solemn imitations thereof,
which yet made me catch him rapturously in my arms and kiss him a
thousand times, until he put me aside, at last, with decorous dignity,
as one transcending privilege.
By some vicarious process, best understood by lovers, I lavished on
little Ernie a thousand terms of endearment, meant only for another, and
by the light of my own happiness he seemed transfigured. He was
identified with the lifting away of a burden more bitter than captivity
itself. They could but kill my body now--my soul was filled with a new
life that nothing could extinguish; and believing in Wentworth, I felt
that I could die happy, let death come when and how it would. I knew now
that in the course of time, whether I lived or died, Wentworth would
know that I was not his niece, and claim Mabel as his own, remembering
my estimate of those who held her in charge. Then would the tide of love
and passion, so long repressed, roll back in its old channel, and he
would leave no stone unturned, no path unexplored, whereby to trace my
To this, as yet, he held no clew. The sea had seemed to swallow Miriam
Harz, by which name I had been registered in the ship's books and known
to the passengers; nor could it be surmised that the young "mad girl,"
since spoken of, as I had been told, in the papers, as having been
restored to her friends by the accident of meeting the Latona, and
Miriam Monfort, were one and the same person. But if the time should
come when all should be explained, either by my own lips or the
revelations of others, good cause might Basil Bainrothe and his
confederate have to tremble!
Like all cold, patient, deeply-feeling men, there were untold reserves
of power and passion in the nature of Wardour Wentworth which might, for
aught I knew to the contrary, tend naturally to and culminate in
revenge. The wish to retaliate was, I knew, a fundamental fault in my
own character, one I had often occasion to struggle with even in
childhood, when Evelyn, my despot, was also my dependant, and generosity
had been called to the aid of forbearance. Vengeance was a fierce thirst
in my Judaic heart which only Christian streams could ever allay or
quench, and I judged the man I loved by self--not always a fitting
standard of comparison.
And Gregory! I could imagine well the fiendish delight with which he had
seen me day by day writhing uncomplainingly beneath the unexplained and
as I had deemed unsuspected alienation of Wentworth, the cause of which
his act had wrapped in mystery! Afraid to tamper with the note I gave
him for the cool, discerning eye of Wentworth, curiosity had at first
led him to break the seal of that intrusted to his care in return, and
dark malevolence to retain it rather than destroy, for the eye of his
confederate. That he had dispatched it at once for Paris was very
evident from the pencilling on the back of the letter; and that the
snare was set for me already, in which the accident of the encountered
raft proved an assistant, I could not doubt.
I fell into the hands of Bainrothe on shipboard instead of into those
of Gregory in New York; this was the only difference, for subterfuge
could have done its work as well, if not as daringly, on land as on sea;
and the league of iniquity was made before I sailed from Savannah.
How perfectly I could comprehend, for the first time since this
revelation, what Wentworth must have suffered beneath his burden of
unrelieved doubt and conjecture! I could see how, day by day, as no
answer came to change the current of his thoughts, conviction slowly
settled down like a cloud upon his heart, his reason; and what stern
confirmation of all he dreaded most, my silence must have seemed to him!
All this I saw in my mental survey with pity, with concern, with wild
desire to fly to him, and whisper truth and consolation in his arms; for
I loved this man as it is given to passionate, earnest natures to love
but once, be it early or late; loved him as Eve loved Adam, when the
whole inhabited earth was given to those two alone.
"You seem in very good spirits to-day, Miss Monfort," said Mrs. Clayton,
with unusual asperity on one occasion, when, holding Ernie in my arms, I
lavished endearments upon him; "your king, indeed! your angel! I really
believe you admire as well as love that hideous little elf."
"Of course I do, Mrs. Clayton; all things I love are beautiful to me;"
and I remembered how Bertie's plain face had grown into touching
loveliness in my sight from the affection I bore her.
"And do you really love this child?"
"Most certainly, and very tenderly too; is he not my sweetest
consolation in this dreary life?"
"What if they remove him?"
"Ah! what, indeed!" and, relaxing my grasp, I clasped my hands together
patiently; that thought had occurred to me before.
"It is a very strong affection to have sprung up from a short
acquaintance on a raft," she remarked, sententiously.
"I saved his infant life, you know; and the benefactor always loves the
thing he benefits. It is on this principle alone God loves his erring
creatures, Mrs. Clayton, rest assured."
"If you had loved the child with true friendship, you would have pushed
him into the sea, rather than have held him in your arms above it."
"Do you suppose he is less near to God than you or I--to Christ the
all-merciful?" I questioned, sternly. "Much rather would I have that
infant's yet unconscious hope of heaven than either yours or mine, Mrs.
"But his earthly hope--it was that I alluded to; what chance for him?
Poor, weakly, deformed; he had better be at rest than knocked from
pillar to post, as he must be in this hard, cold world of chance and
"And that shall never be while I live, Ernie," I said, taking him again
in my lap, at his silent solicitation. "Why, Mrs. Clayton, with such a
noble soul, such intelligence as this child possesses, he may fill a
pulpit, and save erring souls, or write such beautiful poems and
romances as shall thrill the heart, or draw from an instrument sounds as
divine as De Beriot's, or paint a picture, and immortalize his name;
there is nothing too good, too great for Ernie to do, should God grant
him life to achieve; and, as surely as I am spared to be enfranchised,
shall I make this gifted child my charge."
"You are perfectly infatuated, Miss Monfort; I declare, I shall begin
"No, you shall not begin to believe any such, thing," I interrupted her,
smiling; "you are surely too sensible and just a woman to begin to
believe fallacies thus late in the day."
"Have it your own way," she said, sharply; "you always get the better of
me at last."
"Not always," I pursued, "or I should not be here, you know. It rests
with you to keep or let me go--"
"To ruin my child's husband! There, now! you have my life-secret," she
said, with a desperate gesture; "use it as you will."
I understood more than ever the hopelessness of my case from the moment
of that impulsive revelation, to which I made no answer.
"What is more," she said, huskily, "I, too, am watched; I never knew
this until two days ago: a negro man, an attendant of the house, an old
servant of your guardian's, I believe, guards the doors below, and
refuses to let me pass to and fro. Dinah, even, is employed to dog my
steps. This is not exactly what I bargained for; yet, in spite of all,
on her account I shall be faithful to the end." And for a time she
busied herself in that careful dusting of the ornaments of the chamber,
which seemed mechanical, so habitual was it to her sense of order and
Her hand was on the gold-emblazoned Bible, I remember, and her
party-colored bunch of plumes lifted above it, as if for immediate
action, when her arm fell heavily to her side, and she heaved a bitter
sigh, so deep, it sounded like a long-suppressed sob, rather, to my ear.
"If I could only think you did not hate me, Miss Miriam," she said, "I
believe I could be better satisfied to lead the life I do."
"Hate you! Why should I hate you, Mrs. Clayton? You are only a tool in
the hands of my persecutor, I know, from your own confession, and I
understand your motive better in the last few moments than I did before
(inadequate as it seems to my sense of justice), for aiding this
oppressor. You have been very kind to me in some respects; an inferior
person could have tortured in a thousand ways, where you have shown
yourself considerate, delicate even, and for all this I thank you more
than I can express. I should be very ungrateful, indeed, were I to hate
you. The word is strong."
"Yet you prefer even that hump-backed child to me or my society," she
"The comparison cannot be instituted with any propriety," I responded,
gravely, turning away and dismissing the boy to his blocks and books, as
I did so, which made for him, I knew, a fairy kingdom of delight,
through the aid of his splendid imagination.
A commonplace infant will tire of the choicest toys; they are to such
minds but effigies and delusion, which last, the delight of imaginative
infancy, to the cut and dried, dull, childish understanding is
I once overheard one little girl at a theatre--a splendid spectacle,
calculated to dazzle and delight imaginative childhood--say to another:
"It is nothing but make-believe! That house and garden are only painted.
See how they shake! And the women are dressed in paste jewelry, like
that our cook-maid wears to parties, and no jeweler would give a cent
for them; and the fairies are poor girls, dressed up for the occasion;
and the whole play is made up as they go. You see, I know all about it,
I heard no more, but had a glimpse of a little, eager face suddenly
dashed in its expression, and of small fingers pressed to unwilling ears
to shut out unwelcome truths.
The discriminating child seemed a little monster in my eyes, who ought
to have been sent out of the way at once of all companions capable of
_abandon_ and enjoyment; and, as to the "father" she quoted from, I
could imagine him as the embodiment of asinine wisdom, so to speak--the
quintessence of the practical, which so often, I observe, inclines its
devotees to idiocy!
I knew very well that Wattie was not of the stamp to doubt the truth and
splendor of "Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp," or "Cinderella," as
surveyed from the stage-box, in his confiding infancy, any more than to
believing in baubles when the time came to justly discriminate. Woe for
the incredulous child, too matter-of-fact to be enlisted in the
creations of fancy, and who tastes in infancy the chief bitterness of
age--the incapability of surrendering life to the ideal!
How fresh imagination keeps the heart--how young! What a glorious gift
it is when rightly used and governed! Hear Charlotte Bronte's testimony,
as recorded by her biographer: "They are all gone," she says, "the
sisters I so loved, and I have only my imagination left to comfort me.
But for this solace I should despair or perish." The words are not
exact--the book is not beside me, but such is their substance. He who
lists can seek them for himself in the pages of that wondrous spell
woven by Mrs. Gaskell--that tragic and strange biography which once in a
season of deep despondency did more to reconcile me to my own condition,
through my pity and admiration for another, than all the condolences
that came so freely from lip and pen. Every fabric that love had
erected crumbled about her or turned to Dead-Sea ashes on her lip. See
what a world of passion those French letters and themes of hers betray!
The brand of suffering and suffocating sorrow is on every one of them,
plain to the eye of the initiated alone, they who have gazed on the
wonders of the inner temple--the holy of holies--and gone forth
reverently to dream of the revelation evermore in silence.
But, above every ruin of hope, or pride, or affection, like an imperial
banner flung from "the outer wall," her imagination waved and triumphed.
"The clouds of glory" she trailed after her were dyed in spheres
unapproachable by death, or shame, or disappointment, and the gift
described in the Arabian story as conferred by the genii's salve when he
touched therewith the eyes of the traveler and caused him to see all the
wonders of the earth, its gems, its gold, its gleaming chrysolites, its
inward fires, unobscured by the interposition of dust and clay, which
veiled them from all the rest of humanity, may stand as a type of her
The six weeks which had been allotted to me as the term of my captivity
were accomplished, and still Mr. Basil Bainrothe came not--wrote not. I
had seen the month of August glide away, its progress marked only by the
changing fruits and flowers of the season, and the more fervent light
that pierced through the Venetian blinds when turned heavenward, for it
was through these alone that the light of day was permitted to visit my
Where, then, was the place of my captivity situated? In the environs of
a great city, possibly, for the wind often blew, laden with fragrance as
from choice rather than extensive gardens, through my casement, and the
shadow of a tall tree impending over the skylight of the bath-room was,
when windy, cast so distinctly on its panes as to convince me of the
neighborhood of an English elm, the foliage of which tree I knew like an
And then, those fairy, Sabbath chimes! Were such musical bells
duplicated in adjacent cities? or was I, indeed, near our old, beloved
church, in which memory so distinctly revealed our ancient, velvet-lined
pew, my father's bowed head, and the venerable pastor rising white-robed
and saintly in his pulpit to bid all the earth keep silent before the
Lord! Conjecture was rife! Thus August passed away.
My birthday had gone by, and the equinox was upon us, with its rapid
changes of sun and storm, when one of these tempests, accompanied by
hail of unusual size, shattered to fragments the skylight of the
bath-room. This hail-storm was succeeded by a deluge of rain, which
flooded not only the adjacent closet, but the chamber I occupied, among
other evils completely submerging the superb Wilton carpet, concerning
the safety of which Mrs. Clayton felt immense responsibility.
A glazier came as soon as the weather permitted, who was carefully
escorted through my chamber by Mrs. Clayton to ascertain the repairs to
be made--a fresh-looking, white-aproned Irish lad, I remember (for a
human being was a novelty to me then), who found it necessary, in order
to repaint the wood-work, to bear the sash away with him, leaving behind
his tray of chisels and putty, and the light step-ladder he had brought
with him on his shoulder, and on whose return I vainly waited as a
chance for communication with the outer world.
While Dinah was busy with mops and brooms drying the carpet, and Mrs.
Clayton thoroughly occupied with her active superintendence of the
needful operations, little mischievous, meddlesome Ernie had made his
way, contrary to all rules, beneath and behind my bed, and torn off a
goodly portion of the gray and gilded paper which had so far effectually
aided to conceal a closed door situated behind the bed-head, from which
the frame had been removed. Then, for the first time since our
acquaintance, did I slap sharply those little, busy fingers which I
could have kissed for thankfulness, and, watching my opportunity, I
replaced the paper, unseen by Mrs. Clayton, with the remains of a
gum-arabic draught which had been prescribed for his cough. I knew that,
after experiencing such condign punishment, he would return no more to
the scene of his destruction, and that he might forget both injury and
discovery, I devoted myself to his amusement during that active, long,
rainy day with unhoped-for success.
The glazier had announced to Mrs. Clayton that his return might be
deferred for four-and-twenty hours, and, as the succeeding day was clear
and warm, I proceeded, in spite of broken sashes, to take my daily bath
as usual at twelve o'clock.
Mrs. Clayton, with her prison-key in her pocket, and her snuffbox at
hand, yielded herself to the delight of ginger-nuts and her
stocking-basket, and rested calmly after her fatigues of the preceding
day; and Ernie, attracted by the crunching noise--the sound of dropping
nuts, perhaps, which betrayed the presence of his favorite article of
food--hastened to keep her company--a thing he never did
disinterestedly, it must be confessed.
An opportunity now presented itself for observation which I knew might
not again occur during my whole captivity; and surely no sailor ever
ascended to the mast-head of the Pinta with a heart more heaved with
emotion than was mine, as I placed my foot on the last rung of the
ladder, and towered from my waist upward above the skylight. I had drawn
the bolt within, as I invariably did while bathing, and with a feeling
of proud security I stood and surveyed the scene beneath and around me.
The angle of vision did not, it is true, embrace objects immediately
below me, owing to the projecting cornices of the flat roof (a mere
excrescence from the original structure, as this was), but beyond this
the eye swept for some distance uninterruptedly.
Bathed in the golden light of that autumn noonday sun, I saw and
recognized a long-familiar scene, and for a moment I reeled on the
slender step as I did so, and all grew dark around me. But, with one of
those energetic impulses that come to us all in time of emergency, I
recovered my balance in time to save myself from falling; and eagerly
and wistfully, as looks the dying wretch on the dear faces he is soon to
see no more, I gazed upon the paradise from which fiends had driven me.
There, indeed, just as I had left it, lay the deep-green grassy lawn,
with its richly-burdened flower-pots, its laburnums, and white and
purple lilacs, and drooping guelder-rose bushes, and its great English
walnut-tree towering, like a Titan, in the centre. There was the
hawthorn-hedge my father's hand had planted, and the fountain-like
weeping-willow my mother had set, in memory of her dead, whose graves
were far away; and there towered the lofty elm-trees, with their long,
low, sweeping branches, meeting in friendly greeting, to two of which a
swing had once been attached as a bond of union--a swing in which it had
once been my childish pleasure to sway and read, while Mabel sat beside
me with her head upon my shoulder, held securely in her place by my
strong, loving, encircling arm.
Nor were these all to assure me that, after a year of melancholy and
eventful absence, I looked again upon the precincts of home. A little
farther on rose the gray wall and tower of the library and belfry, half
concealed by its heavy coating of ivy, glossy and dark, and shutting
away all other view of the mansion. Beyond these last was the pavilion
my father had built for the playhouse of his children, through the open
lattice-door of which I saw a girl seated at her work, with graceful,
bending neck, and half-averted face. A moment later, Claude Bainrothe
lounged across the sward, cigar in hand. At his approach, the face
within was turned, and I recognized, at a glance, that of my young
aurora-like companion of the raft, Ada Greene. Then gazing cautiously
around, as if to elude observation (never dreaming of the eye dropped
like a bird's upon him), he lifted the rosy face in his hand and kissed
it thrice right loverly!
I saw no more--I would not witness more--for had I not learned already
all that I asked or ought to know? Well might the dear old chimes ring
out their Sabbath welcome to one who had obeyed their summons from her
childhood up to womanhood! Well might the summer air bear on its wings
greeting of familiar odors, lost and found!
This was no idle dream, no mirage of a vagrant brain like that
sea-picture, or that wild vision at Beauseincourt, but sober, and sad,
and strange reality. I understood my position from that moment,
geographically as well as physically. I was a prisoner in the house of
Basil Bainrothe (while he, perchance, reigned lordly in my own); that
house whose hidden arcana I had never explored, and which, beyond its
parlor and exterior, was to me as the dwelling of a stranger.
Derisively deferential, he had resigned to me this secluded chamber in
the ell--his own particular sanctum, I remember to have heard--and
betaken himself, in all probability, to the more spacious mansion of his
Far wiser, even if sadder, than I went up its rounds, did I descend that
Half an hour after I had entered it, and with new hope, I emerged from
the bath-room as fresh as a naiad, having first abstracted from the
tool-box of the glazier two tiny chisels of different sizes, and a
small lump of putty, which I secreted, on my first opportunity, in my
favorite hiding-place--a hollow in the post of my bedstead--an
accidental discovery of mine, made during Mrs. Clayton's first illness,
since which I had always insisted on making up my own bed, much to her
My conscience so disturbed me on the score of this theft, that I
hastened to secrete my only remaining piece of gold in the glazier's
box; ill-judged, as this appeared to me on reflection. The boy was an
apprentice, evidently, and might else, I thought, at the time, have been
the loser. I feared to add a line, and dared not seek a passing word
with him, so carefully was I watched.
I next examined, with the eye of scientific scrutiny, two massive rulers
that lay on my table, one made of maple-wood, and the other of ebony,
and, having selected the first as most available for my purpose,
prepared to commence the most arduous undertaking of my life--the
careful shaping of a wooden key!
I had read somewhere that, during the French Revolution, a young
peasant-girl, by means of such an instrument, had set at large her
lover, or her brother, in _La Vendee;_ having taken with soft wax the
outline of the wards of the lock, in a moment of opportunity.
That day my work began--three times a failure, but at last successful.
With the aid of putty, gradually allowed to harden, I obtained the mould
I desired, in the dead of night, and afterward, whenever privacy, even
for a few minutes, was mine, I drew from my bosom my sacred piece of
sculpture, and worked upon it with knife and chisel alternately, as
devotee never worked on sculptured crucifix. Never shall I forget the
rapture, the ecstasy of that moment, in which, ensconced between my
bed-head and the wall, I slowly turned the key, first thoroughly soaked
in oil, in the morticed wards, and knew, by the slight giving of the
door, that it was unlocked.
Not Ali Baba, when he entered the robbers' cave, and saw the heaps of
gold--all his by the force of one magic word; not Aladdin, when the
genius of the lamp rose to his bidding, bearing salvers of jewels, which
were to purchase for him the hand of the sultan's daughter; not Sindbad,
when he saw the light which led him to the aperture of egress from the
sepulchre in which he had been pent up with his wife's body to die--knew
keener or more triumphant sensations than filled my bosom as I laid that
completed key next my heart, after turning it cautiously backward and
forward in my prison-lock!
I dared not, at that time, draw back the bolt above, that confined it
loosely yet securely, or turn the silver knob sufficiently to set it
even ever so little ajar; but I did both later, when oil had time to do
its subtle work, and I could effect my experiment in silence. Yet I
hazarded nothing of the sort when the quick ear of Mrs. Clayton held
watch in the adjoining room. I was obliged to take advantage of those
moments of rare absence, when, double-locking the doors of her chamber,
both inner and outer, she would descend, for a few minutes, to the
realms below, returning so suddenly and silently as almost to surprise
me, on one or two occasions, at my work.
About the time of the completion of my experiment, I became aware of
sounds in the room beneath my chamber, and sometimes on the great
stairway (of which I now knew the largest platform was situated very
near the head of my bed), that gave token of occupancy.
The rattling of china and silver might be discerned in the ancient
dining-room, at morn and night. The occupant probably dined elsewhere,
but the regularity of these meals was unmistakable.
I recognized, faintly, the step of Bainrothe on the stairway,
distinguishing it readily from any other, as it passed and repassed my
October had now set in, with a chilliness unusual to that bland season,
and I asked for and obtained permission to have a fire kindled in the
wide and gloomy grate of my chamber, hitherto unused by me.
About this household flame, Ernie, Mrs. Clayton, and I gathered
harmoniously; she with her unfailing work-basket, I with book or pencil,
the baby with his blocks and dominoes and painted pictures--the only
happy and truly industrious spirit of the group. My true work was
done--else might it never have been completed.
The presence of fire was indispensable to Mrs. Clayton, and, from the
time of its first lighting, she left me but seldom alone. Her rheumatic
limbs needed the solace that I had no heart to grudge her, distasteful
as she was to me, and becoming more so day by day--false as I now knew
her to be--false at heart.
How hatred grows, when we once admit the germ--not, like love,
parasitically--but strong, stanch, stern, alone throwing down fresh
roots, even hour by hour, like the banyan, monarch of the Eastern
forest. I am afraid I have a turn for this passion naturally, but for
love as well, ten times more intense--so that one pretty well
counterbalances the other.
To carry out the vine-simile, I might as well add at once that, in the
end, the parasitical plant has triumphed, and stifled the sterner
growth. In other words, Christianity has conquered Judaism.
"I suppose I may soon expect a visit from Mr. Bainrothe," I said one
day to Mrs. Clayton. "I think my birthday approaches; can you tell me
the day of the month? I know that of the week from remembering the
I thought she started slightly at this announcement, but she replied,
"The 5th, yes, I am quite sure it is the 5th of the month."
"Do you never see a newspaper, Mrs. Clayton, and, if so, can you not
indulge me with a glimpse of one? I think it would do me good--remind me
that I was alive, I have seen none since the account of Miss Lamarque's
safety, for which God be praised."
"No, Miss Monfort, it is simply impossible. I should be transgressing
the rules of the establishment."
"Dr. Englehart's, I suppose, as if indeed there were such a person," I
"Do you pretend to doubt it?" she asked, slowly, setting her greedy eyes
upon my face, and dropping her darning-work and shell upon her knee.
"Why, what possesses you to-day, Miss Miriam?"
"I shall answer no questions, Mrs. Clayton--this right, at least, I
reserve--but, the fact is, I doubt every thing lately, except this
child and God. I do not believe my Creator will forsake me utterly--I
shall not, till the end." And tears rolled down my face, the first I had
shed for days. I had been petrified, of late, by the resolution I was
making, and the effort of mind it had cost me. I had felt, until now,
that I was hardening into stone.
"You desire to see Mr. Bainrothe, I suppose," she remarked, after a long
silence, during which she had again betaken herself to her occupation,
without lifting her eyes as she asked the question.
"I desire to look my fate in the face at once, and understand his
conditions," I replied, sullenly.
"But what if he is not here--what if Dr. Englehart--" lifting her eyes
"I cannot be mistaken," I interrupted, with impetuosity. "I have heard
his step; he eats in the room below; I am convinced, for I know of old
that bronchial cough of his--the effect of gormandism--"
Then suddenly, Ernie, looking up, made a revelation, irrelevant, yet to
my ear terrible and astounding, but fortunately incomprehensible to my
companion. What did that little vigilant creature ever fail to remark?
"Mirry make tea," he said, or seemed to say, and my face paled and
flushed alternately, until my brain swam.
"Make tea?" said the voice of Mrs. Clayton, apparently at a great
distance. "No, I will make the tea, Ernie, as long as we stay together.
Mirry does not know how to draw tea like an Englishwoman."
Oh, fortunate misunderstanding! how great was the reaction it
occasioned! From an almost fainting condition I rallied to vivacity,
and, for long, weary hours, sat pointing out pictures to the boy, to win
him to oblivion, and persuade him to silence. Singularly enough, but
not unusual with him, he never resumed the topic. I had taken pains to
hide my work from his observing eyes; and how he knew it, unless he lay
silently and watched me from his little bed, when I worked at early dawn
in mine, I never could conjecture. A few days later Mrs. Clayton
announced to me that Mr. Bainrothe would call very shortly.
It was early morning, I remember, when she laid before me the card of
"Basil Bainrothe," with its elaborate German characters, on which was
written, in pencil, the addendum, "Will call at ten o'clock;" and,
punctual as the hand to the hour, he knocked at the dressing-room door
at the appointed time, and was admitted.
He entered with that light, jaunty step peculiar to him, and which I
have consequently ever associated in others with impudence and guile.
Hat and cane in the left hand, he entered; two fingers of the right
raised to his lips, by way of salutation (he clinched his glove in the
remainder), to be offered to me later, and ignored completely, then
waved carelessly, as if condoning the offense.
He was quite a picture as he came in--a fashion-plate, and as such I
coolly regarded him--fresh, fair, and smiling, looking younger, if
possible, than when we parted a year before, and handsome, as that
much-abused word goes, in his debonair, off-hand style of appearance.
He was dressed with even more than his usual care and trimness (wore
patent-leather boots, my aversion from that hour, for these were the
first I had ever seen), and lavender-colored pantaloons, very tightly
strapped down over them; a glossy black coat and vest, and linen of
unimpeachable quality and whiteness; while a chain of fine Venetian
gold held his watch, or eye-glass, or both, in suspension from his neck.
Yet no beggar in rags ever appeared to me half so loathly as did this
"You have come," I said, grimly, as he settled his shirt-collar to speak
to me, after formally depositing his hat and cane, and a roll of paper
he drew from his pocket, on the centre-table, and wiping his face
carefully with his cambric, musk-scented handkerchief, unspeakably
odious and unclean to my olfactories--"you have come at last; yet the
greatest wonder to me is, how you dare appear at all before me," and I
looked upon him right lionly, I believe.
"You were always inclined to assume the offensive with me, Miriam. Yet I
confess you have a little shadow of reason this time, or seem to have,
and I am here to-day for purposes of explanation or compromise" (bowing
gracefully), and he rubbed his palms together very gently and
complacently, looking around as he did so for a chair, which perceiving,
and drawing to the table so as to face me where I sat on the sofa, he
deposited himself upon, assuming at once his usual graceful pose.
It was _fauteuil_, and he threw one arm over that of the chair,
suffering his well-preserved white hand--always suggestive of poultices
to me--with its signet ring, to droop in front of it--a hand which he
moved up and down habitually, as he conversed, in a singularly soothing
and mechanical fashion--his "pendulum" we used to call it in old times,
Evelyn and I, when it was one of our chief resources for amusement to
laugh at "Cagliostro," our _sobriquet_ for this _ci-devant jeune homme_,
it may be remembered.
"Let me premise, Miriam," he began, "by congratulating you on your
improved appearance"--another benign bow. "You were so burned and
blackened by exposure, and so--in short, so very wild-looking when I
last saw you, that I began to fear for the result; but perfect rest and
retirement, and good nursing, have effected wonders. I have never seen
you so fair, so refined-looking, and yet so calm, as you are now
(calmness, my child, is aristocratic--cultivate it!); even if a little
thin and delicate from confinement, yet perfectly healthy, I cannot
doubt, from what I see. Do assure me of your health, my dear girl. You
are as dumb to-day as Grey's celebrated prophetess."
"All personal remarks as coming from you are offensive to me, Mr.
Bainrothe," I rejoined; "proceed to your business at once, whatever that
may be--a truce to preamble and compliments."
"You shall be obeyed," he remarked, bowing low and derisively. "Yet,
believe me, nothing but my care for your fair fame and my own have led
me to confine you in such narrow limits for a season which, I trust, is
almost over. As to my persecutions, which, I am told, you allege as a
reason for leaving your house and friends so precipitately, these are
out of the question henceforth forever, I assure you"--with a wave of
the velvet hand--"since I am privately married to a lady of rank and
fortune, who will soon be openly proclaimed 'my wife,' and who will be
found, on close acquaintance, worthy of your friendship."
While giving utterance to this tirade, Mr. Bainrothe was slowly
unwinding a string from around the roll of papers he had laid on the
table, and which he now proceeded to spread somewhat ostentatiously
before me, still mute and impassive to all his advances as I continued
"There are several," he said. "Your signature to each, will be
required, which, now that you are in your right mind again, and of age,
will be binding, as you know. My witnesses shall be called in when the
time comes. Dr. Englehart and Mrs. Clayton will suffice as proofs of
these solemnities--these and others likely to occur."
"Solemnities! Levities, mockeries rather!" I could not help rejoining.
He felt the sarcasm. His florid cheek paled with anger, his
yellow-speckled eyes glowed with lurid fire, he compressed his lips
bitterly as he said:
"Marriage is usually considered a solemnity, Miss Monfort; and, let me
assure you, it is only as a married woman I can conscientiously release
you from confinement. You have shown yourself too erratic to be
intrusted in future with your own liberties."
"Possibly," I rejoined. "Yet I mean to have the selection, let me assure
you, in return, of the controller of my liberties--nay, have already
selected him, for aught you know!"
My cool audacity seemed for a moment to paralyze even his own. He paused
and surveyed me, as if in doubt of his own senses.
"_Impayable!_" I heard him murmur, softly, and, turning to the
book-shelves, he left me for a time to master the contents of the three
documents over which I was bending.
I read them in order as they were numbered, and became more and more
indignant as their meaning opened upon my brain, and culminated at last
in a sharp, sudden exclamation of utter disdain.
I started from my chair and approached him, paper in hand. I think for
a few moments the idea of personal danger possessed him, and the vision
of a concealed dirk or pistol swam before his eyes, which he shielded
with his hand, while he placed a chair between us; and, truth to say,
there was murder in my heart, and in my eyes as well, I suppose, even if
the mistrust went no further.
I could have obliterated him from the face of the earth at that moment
as remorselessly as if he had been a viper in my path striking to sting
me. Yet I advanced toward him with no demonstration or intentions of
this kind, having the habits of lady-like breeding and usual innocence
of weapons, and ignorance of the use thereof as well, to restrain me.
I forget. Close to my heart lay one of the sharp, shining chisels I had
taken from the glazier in the bath-room.
"What is it you object to, Miriam?" he asked, in faltering tones, as his
hand fell and his glimmering eyes encountered mine.
From that day I have believed the legend which tells that, when the
Roman, helpless in his dungeon, thundered forth, "Slave! darest thou
kill Caius Marius?" the armed minion of murder turned and fled, dropping
the knife he held, in his panic, at the feet of the man he came to slay.
Almost such effect was for a time observable in Basil Bainrothe.
It made me smile bitterly. "All, every thing," I answered. "The whole
requisition, from first to last, is base, dastardly--crime-confessing,
too--if seen with discriminating eyes. Why, if innocent of fraud toward
me and mine, should you ask a formal acknowledgment on my part as to
your just administration of my affairs, and a recantation of all I have
said to the contrary, both with regard to yourself and Evelyn Erle?
Such are the contents of this first paper, the only one that I could,
under any possible circumstances, be induced to sign as a compromise
with your villainy; for, not to gain my own life or liberty, will I ever
put hand to the others, infamous as they are on the very surface."
"Miriam, this violence surprises me, is wholly unlooked for, and
unnecessary," he remarked, mildly. "From what Mrs. Clayton has told me,
I had supposed that my disinterested care and assiduity with regard to
your condition were about to meet their reward in your rational
submission to the necessities of your case and mine. Resume your seat, I
entreat you, and let us calmly discuss a matter that seems to agitate
you so unduly. Perhaps I may be able to place it before you in a better
light ere we have concluded our interview. You will sit down again,
Miriam, will you not?"
"Oh, surely, if you are alarmed; but, really, I should suppose, with
Mrs. Clayton and Dr. Englehart no doubt in call, you need not be so
tremulous. There, you are quite safe, I assure you, in your old place,
with the table between us;" and I pointed derisively to the _fauteuil_ he
had occupied so gracefully a few moments before, and into which he now
"Contemptuous girl," he broke forth at last, "you may yet live to regret
this behavior; so far, nothing has been denied you; no expense has been
spared for your comfort; in a tribunal of justice you could say this, no
more: 'My guardian, thinking me mad from his experiences of my conduct
and health, and regaining accidental possession of me at a time when,
under a feigned name, I was thought to be drowned, deemed it best,
before revealing my existence to the world, to try and restore me to
sanity by private measures, rather than bring upon my malady the eyes
of a mocking world. In doing this, he used all delicacy, all devotion,
surrounding me with comforts, and many luxuries, and even humoring my
insane whim to have the companionship of a year-old child found with me
on the raft under circumstances suspicious--if no more--'"
"Wretch!" I gasped, "dare only asperse me in thought, and"--the menace
hung suspended on my tongue. What power had I to execute it, even if
"As to my name, I feigned none. It was my mother's, is my own, and from
her I inherited, or, from the race of which she sprang, the power to
remember and avenge my wrongs; to hate, and curse--and blast, perhaps,
as well--such as you and yours, granted to his chosen children through
the power of Almighty God!" And again I rose and confronted him; then
fiercely pointed down upon his ignoble head, now bowed involuntarily,
either from policy or nervous terror, I never knew, a finger quivering
and keen with scorn and rage, an index of the mind that directed it.
"I wonder you are not afraid to behave to me in this manner," he said,
at length, lifting his head with a spasmodic jerk, and raising to mine
his mottled, angry eyes, now cold and hard as pebbles, "seeing that you
are, so to speak, in the hollow of my hand;" and, suiting the action to
the word, he extended his long, spongy, right hand, and closed it
crushingly, as though it contained a worm, while he smiled and
sneered--oh, such a sneer! it seemed to fill the room.
"True, true--I am very helpless," I said, sitting down with a sudden
revulsion of feeling, and, clasping my hands above my eyes, I wept
aloud, adding, a moment later, as I indignantly wiped my tears: "Yes, if
the worst betide, there will only be one more martyr; and, what is
martyrdom, that any need shrink from it? The world is full of it!"
"Nothing, if you are used to it," he said, carelessly, "as the old woman
remarked of the eels she was skinning alive; I suppose you know all
about it by this time. But come, you are rational again, now, and I
don't wish to be hard on you, Miriam; I don't, upon my soul!"
"Your soul!" I murmured---"your soul!" I reiterated louder; and I smiled
at the idea that suggested itself--"have reptiles souls?"
"The memory of your father alone, my old, confiding friend, one of the
most perfect of men, as I always thought him, would incline me kindly to
his daughter, even if no other tie existed between us," he said calmly,
unmindful of my sarcasm. "But other ties do exist, mistaken girl! The
world looks upon us as one family--since the marriage of Claude and
Evelyn, that uncongenial union which, but for your caprice, would never
have taken place, and which is at the root of all our misfortunes, all
our fatal necessities."
"Necessities!" I muttered, between my clinched teeth, drumming with my
fingers impatiently on the table before me, and smiling scornfully a
"You seem in a mood for iteration, to-day, Miss Monfort."
"I make my running commentaries in that way, Mr. Bainrothe. But a truce
to recrimination and reminiscence both. Let us adhere strictly to the
letter and verse of our affairs. These papers form the subject of your
visit, I believe. Know, at once, that the first I will sign, on certain
conditions, bitter and humiliating as I feel it to be obliged to do
this; but, that I will ever consent to yield the guardianship of my
sister wholly to Evelyn Erie and her husband, or divest myself of my
house and furniture, or my wild lands in Georgia, to you, here first
named to me, in consideration of expenses already incurred and to be
incurred for Mabel's education, and my own safe-keeping, during a long
attack of lunacy; or that I will, to crown the whole iniquitous
requisition, consent to give my hand in marriage to that scoundrel--Luke
Gregory!--are visions as vain as those of the child who tried to grasp a
comet or the moon--or, to descend in comparison, to catch a bird by
putting salt on its tail! There, you have my ultimatum; now go and make
the best of it!"
"I am prepared for your objections--prepared, too, to overcome them," he
said, coolly. "Take time to consider all this. I do not expect an answer
to-day, did not when I came, nor will I accept one signature without the
whole. There is no compromise possible. As to your marriage--it must be
accomplished before you leave this room. I, as a magistrate, can tie the
knot--fast enough to bind all the other agreements to certain
fulfillments, for Gregory is a friend of mine, and a man of honor, and
will see them carried out to the letter. He loves you, too, and proves
it, for he takes you penniless. Afterward a priest may complete the
ceremony if you have any scruples. Then, of course, it rests between you
and Gregory, whether you remain together or separate as wide as the
poles--I shall wash my hands of the whole affair thereafter, having
secured my good name and yours."
I stood with bowed head and moving lips before him--mutely, indignantly.
"I shall, however, make all this," he continued, "appear as well as
possible to your friends and mine, especially, believe me, Miriam! I
shall state, for your sake, that, after being rescued from the raft, you
were partially insane, but still sufficiently mistress of yourself to
coincide with me and your sisters in the wish to let your death as Miss
Harz pass current with the world, until you should redeem your errors"
(what errors?), "and be restored to health and perfect reason. You will
see that your acknowledgment of the last paper includes these
extenuating facts, when you have leisure to re-read it (for I saw how
hastily you glanced over that one in particular); you must do me the
favor to peruse it much more carefully," drawing on his gloves coolly,
"before you make your final decision. You are very comfortable here, my
dear girl," glancing around benignly, "but you have no conception of the
frame of mind, bare walls, utter solitude, a fireless hearth and a
frugal table, would bring about in a very few days or weeks, or even in
one as resolute and defiant as yourself. I should be loath to try such
an experiment _or deprive you of your child_--but _necessitous non habet
legem,_ the school-book says. I think you, too, studied a little Latin,
"Not a very relevant or polite remark, I must confess. By-the-by,
Miriam, as you stand before me with your well-poised figure--your
blazing eyes--your quivering nostrils--your curling, compressed
lip--your heaving chest (always a splendid feature in your _physique_),
your folded arms, and the color coming and going in your pale-olive
cheek, in the old flame-like way I used to admire so much in your
girlhood--you are a splendid creature, by Jove! I could find it in my
heart to love you still--there, it is out at last--if it were not for
Mrs. Raymond--" glancing, as he spoke, in the direction of Mrs. Clayton,
with a knowing smile, "It was your magnificent disdain that kindled the
torch before. Beware how you revive that fanaticism of mine!"
I turned for one moment with an involuntary feeling of appeal to Mrs.
Clayton, but her cold, green eyes were quivering in accordance with the
smile that stretched her thin lips to a line of mocking mirth. One
glimpse of sympathy would have carried me to her arms for
refuge--distasteful as she was to me in every way save one. She, like
myself, was a woman. But such perversion of all natural feeling
estranged me from her irreconcilably and forever.
I was alone; shame, humiliation, despair, possessed me; indignation, for
the insult I was forced to bear in her presence, filled my soul--I stood
with my head cast down, tears raining on my bosom, my arms dropped
nervelessly beside me, my hands clinched, my whole frame trembling with
Slowly and one by one came those convulsive sobs--that rend and wrench
the physical frame as earthquakes do the earth. Then rose the sudden
resolve--born of volcanic impulse, irresistible to mind as is the
lava-flood to matter, sweeping before it all obstructions of reason,
If it cost me my life I would avenge myself on this tiger, thirsting for
my blood; I would anticipate him in his work of destruction, and the
strength of Samson seemed to permeate my frame.
It was strange that at that moment of cold, impetuous energy I forgot
the steel I carried in my bosom, and thought only of the power I bore in
my own hands. I determined to strangle him with my strong, elastic
fingers, of which I knew full well the powerful grasp.
The consequences were as cobwebs in my estimate--compared to the ecstasy
of such revenge--for all this flashed through my brain with the swift
vividness of lightning, and in less than thirty seconds after his last
remark this matter was matured. The woman prevailed over the lady.
I raised my eyes slowly and dashed away my tears, preparatory to the
onset. He was looking at me wonder-struck, and, perhaps, with something
like compunction in his face as I met his gaze. He must have read an
expression that appalled him in those dilated eyes of mine that
confronted his, for, as I sprang toward him, he bounded backward and
escaped through the door of Mrs. Clayton's chamber, which he shut after
him with undignified alertness. I stood smiling, and strangely cold,
leaning against the mantel-shelf, while my heart beat as though it would
have leaped from my throat, and I could feel the pallor of my face as
chill as marble.
Mrs. Clayton approached me, but I put her away with waving hands. "Go,
wretch!" I said, "woman no more, you have unsexed yourself. Leave me in
peace--your touch is poisonous."
She shrank away silently, and I stood for a while like one frozen; then
cast myself down on a chair and gave way to bitter weeping. The
flood-gates were open, and the "waters" had indeed "come in over my
soul." I had restrained my passionate inclinations until now, not only
from a sense of personal dignity, but from a determination not to play
into the hands of my enemies and captors, and all the more from such
long self-control was the revulsion potent and overwhelming.
The consciousness that Ernie was at my knee at last aroused me from the
indulgence of my grief, and I looked down to meet his compassionate and
inquiring eyes fixed upon me with a masterful expression I have never
seen in any other childish face. It thrilled me to the heart.
"What Mirry cry for--is God mad with Mirry?" he asked at length.
"It seems so, Ernie--yet oh, no, no! I cannot, will not believe in such
injustice on the part of the Most High!" I pursued in sad soliloquy,
with folded hands, and shaking head; and musing eyes fixed on the fire
before me: "My God will not forsake me!"
"Did the bad man hurt Mirry?" he asked, leaning with both arms on my lap
and putting up his hand to touch my face.
"Yes, very cruelly, Ernie."
"Big giant will come and kill him, and fayways put him in the river, and
the old wolf wat eat Red Riding Hood eat him, and then the devil will
roast him for his dinner."
I could but smile, albeit through my tears, at the climax of these
threats which seemed to delight and stir the inmost soul of Ernie. His
eyes flashed, his cheek crimsoned, his wide red mouth curled with
disdainful ire, disclosing the small, pointed pearls within; he seemed
"And Ernie! what will Ernie do for Mirry?" I asked, as I watched the
workings of his expressive face. "Will Ernie let the wicked man kill
He looked at his small hands and arms, then extended them wistfully.
"Ernie will tell good Jesus," he said, "and he will make Ernie grow
big--ever so big--to tie the man and put him in a bag like Clayton's
The burlesque was irresistible, and none the less so that the child was
so direfully in earnest. To his infant imagination no worse disaster
than had befallen Clayton's cat could be devised. This animal, adored by
him, had been bagged and exiled, perhaps drowned for aught I know, for
stealing cheese from the cupboard sacred to Clayton, by that vengeful
potentate, to the despair of Ernie. The idolized kittens, too, which had
followed her, had disappeared with their mother, and days of infant
melancholy ensued, during which the canaries before referred to were
brought as substitutes. The faithful heart still clung to its feline
passion, it was evident, though for weeks the memory of that hapless cat
had been ignored and its name unmentioned.
I believe, after my momentary wrath was over, I should have been content
with the punishment suggested by the child, as sufficient even for Basil
[Footnote 6: The raft on which Miss Lamarque and her family had found
refuge had been swept by the tempest of nearly every soul that clung to
it, after a terrible night of storm and rain, during which that
courageous lady--that Sybarite of society--sustained the fainting souls
of her companions by singing the grand anthems of her Church, in a voice
loud, clear, and sweet as that of a dying swan. One child was saved of
the nine little ones, and the brother and sister remained almost alone
on the raft. Let it be here mentioned that, at no period of her
subsequent life, a long and apparently prosperous one, could Miss
Lamarque bear to hear the circumstances of the wreck alluded to. Mr.
Dunmore and his companions found a watery grave.]
A nervous headache, that confined me to my bed for several days,
succeeded the degrading and exciting scene through which I had passed,
and, as Mrs. Clayton had at the same time one of her prostrating
neuralgic attacks, the services of Dinah were in active requisition.
During my own peculiar phase of suffering, the small racket of Ernie,
unnoticed in hours of health, grated painfully on my ear, and I caught
eagerly at the proposition of the negress to take him down-stairs for a
walk and hours of play in the sunshine, privileges he did not very often
obtain in these latter days.
I was much the better for having lain silently for a time, when he
returned with his hands filled with flowers, his lips smelling of
peppermint-drops, and his eyes, always his finest feature, dancing with
He had seen Ady, he told me, with eagerness, and she had kissed him, and
tied a string of beads about his neck--red ones--which he displayed; and
"Ady had a comb in her head, and her toof was broke"--touching one of
his own front teeth lightly, so that I knew he was not pointing out any
deficiency in the afore-mentioned comb. From this description, vague as
it was, I identified Ada Greene as the person intended to be described;
for I too had observed the imperfection he made a point of--a broken
tooth, impairing the beauty of otherwise faultless ones.
"And who gave you the flowers, Ernie?" I asked, receiving them from his
generous hands as I spoke, and raising the white roses to my nostrils to
inhale their delicate breath. "Did Ady give you these?"
"No--Angy!" he answered, solemnly.
"Tell me about Angy, Ernie--had she wings?"
"No wings! Poor Angy could not fly. She was walking in the garden with
Adam and Eve, with their clothes on," he said, earnestly.
"Mr. and Mrs. Claude Bainrothe, no doubt," I thought, smiling at the
strange mixture of the real and the ideal--the plates of the old Bible
evidently supplied the latter, from which many of his impressions were
derived--and the practical pair in question the former, quietly
But "Angy!" Could I doubt for one moment to whom he applied that
celestial title? The face of one of the angels in the transfiguration
did, indeed, resemble Mabel's. I had often remarked and pondered over
"Tell me about Angy, Ernie," I entreated. "O Heaven! to think her hands
have touched these flowers--her sweet face bent above him! Darling,
darling! to be divided and yet so near! It breaks my heart!" and tears
flowed freely while he tried to describe the vision that had so
impressed him, in his earnest way.
"Poor Angy got no wings," he began again; "bu hair, and bu eyes, and bu
dress"--every thing he admired was blue--"and she kissed Ernie and gave
him peppermint-drops. Then Adam and Eve laughed just so"--grinning
wonderfully--"and said, 'Go home, bad, ugly child, with a back on!' Then
Angy pulled flowers and gave Ernie!"
"It is only the little gal next door--I means de young lady ob de
'stablishment, wat de poor, foolish, humped-shouldered baby talking
about," Dinah explained. "He calls her 'Angy,' I s'pose, 'cause she's so
purty like; and you tells him 'bout dem hebbenly kine of people, so de
say, mos' ebbery night. Does you think dar is such tings, sure enough,
"Certainly, Dinah--the Bible tells us so; but what is the name of the
pretty little girl of whom you speak? Tell me, if you know"--and I laid
my hand upon her arm and whispered this inquiry, waiting impatiently for
a confirmation of my almost certainty. For, that my darling _was_
Ernie's Angy, I could not doubt, and the thought moved me to tremulous
"Dar, now: you is going to hab one ob dem bad turns agin--I sees it in
your eyes. You see," dropping her voice for a moment, "I darsn't dar to
speak out plain and 'bove-board heah, as if I was at home in Georgy!
Ebbery ting is wat dey calls a mist'ry' hereabouts; an' I has bin
notified not to tell ob no secret doins ob deirn to any airthly creeter,
onless I wants to be smacked into jail an' guv up to my wrong owners. My
own folks went down on de 'Scewsko;' an' I means to wait till I see how
dat 'state's gwine to be settled up afore I pursents myself as 'mong de
live ones. We is all published as dead, you sees, honey, an' it would be
no lie to preach, our funeral, or eben put up our foot-board.
He--he--he! I wonder wat my ole man'll say ef he ebber sees me comin'
back agin wid a bag full ob money? I guess it'll skeer de ole creeter
out ob a year's growfe; but dis is de trufe! Ef Miss Polly Allen gits de
'state (she was my mistis's born full-sister, an' a mity fine ole maid,
I tells you, chile!), wy, den Sabra'll be found to be no ghose; fur it's
easier to lib wid good wite folks Souf dan Norf. We hab our own housen
dar, an' pigs, an' poultry, an' taturs, an' a heap besides, an' time to
come an' go, an' doctors wen we's sick, an' our own preachin', an' de
banjo an' bones to dance by, an' de best ob funeral 'casions an'
weddin's bofe, an' no cole wedder, an' nuffin to do but set by de light
wood-fiah an' smoke a pipe wen we gits past work; an' we chooses our own
time to lay by--some sooner, some later, 'cordin' as de jints holes out.
But here it is work--work--work--all de time; good pay, but no
holiday, no yams, no possum-meat, an' mity mean colored siety!"
"But what has all this to do with the name of the little girl next door?
Whisper that, and tell me the rest afterward."
"But, if Master Jack Dillard gits de 'state," she proceeded, as though
she had not heard my eager question, "wy, den Sabra Smif am as dead as a
door-nail from dis time to de day ob judgment, an' de ole man'll have to
git anoder 'fectionate companion. I'se mity sorry for de poor ole soul,
but I a'n't gwine to put myself in Jack Dillard's claws, not ef I knows
myself. He's one ob dem young wite sort wat lubs de card-table, an'
don't scriminate atween ole an' young folks. You see, he's my masta's
nevy--for de ole folks had no chillun but Miss May Jane, an' she's bin
dead dis fifteen yeer, and bofe her chilluns dun follered her to de
grabe, so dere is only Miss Polly Ann lef, and--"
Here Mrs. Clayton groaned audibly, and, calling Dinah to her aid, broke
up the _tete-a-tete_ if such might justly have been called our
interview. It was not very long, however, before Dinah returned to my
bedside, by Mrs. Clayton's directions, to offer to comb out my hair,
which was tangled beyond my skill to thread in my prostrate condition.
Yet, to make an effort so far as to rise and have this done, I knew
would be of benefit to me.
We were sitting by the toilet, while the process of untangling my
massive length of locks was going on, and the upper drawer thereof was
half open, thus affording me a glimpse of its contents. Among these was
my silent watch with its chain of gold, its pencil and seal attached. I
wore it usually (though useless now in its silent condition--the
mainspring was broken) from habit and for safe keeping, but had laid it
there when I staggered to my bed, ill and weak after my terrible
interview with Mr. Bainrothe.
It caught the eye of Dinah and stirred her master-passion, avarice, and
she began to question me, I soon saw, with a view of getting it in her
own possession. The selfishness of the old negress had struck me on the
raft as something rare even in one of her shallow race, and my
conviction of her cowardice and coldness prevented me from taking
advantage of her cupidity, as I might have done otherwise.
She was fully capable, I felt convinced, of accepting my watch as a
bribe, and failing afterward to come up to her bargain. Yet, dear as it
was to me from association of ideas, I should not have weighed it an
instant against the merest probability of escape. I knew if I could gain
an hour upon my pursuers, I should be safe in the house of Dr.
Pemberton, or even in that of Dr. Craig, another friend of my father's.
I was comparatively at home anywhere in the city of my nativity,
acquainted as I was with its streets and people, and I fully determined,
when I found Sabra's avarice excited, to offer her as a reward this
golden treasure, should she first place me in circumstances to gain my
"Dey calls you pore, honey," she said softly, "but wen I sees dat
bright gole watch and chain I knows better. Now I reckon dey would bring
enough bright silver dollars at a juglar's shop to buy my ole man twice
over agin! He is but porely, and our chilluns is all dead and gone,
anyway, all but one, way down in New Orleans, an' ef I could git his
free papers he might come here and jine his wife in freedom, even if
Massa Jack Dillard did heir masta's estate. How much would dat watch and
chain be worth, honey?"
"Two or three hundred dollars, I suppose, I don't know exactly; but
certainly enough to buy your old man at Southerners' value set upon aged
negroes; but whether it be or not--"
An apparition, of which I fortunately caught the reflection in the glass
before me, cut short the promise that hovered on my lips. It was that of
Mrs. Clayton, in her bed-gown and swathed in flannel, peering, peeping,
listening at the door of her chamber, as unlovely a vision, certainly,
as ever broke up an _entretien_ or dissolved a delusion.
I maintained my self-possession, though my agitation was extreme (the
crisis had seemed so favorable!), while she limped forward and accosted
me civilly, with a demand as peremptory as a highwayman's for my watch
and chain, of which I took no notice.
"I should be doing you great injustice in your condition," she added,
coolly, "to let you sell your watch, even to benefit Dinah and her old
man, benevolent as is your motive; so I must take possession of it, or
send for Dr. Englehart to do so, whichever you prefer."
"The watch is there," I said, rising haughtily, with my still unadjusted
hair falling about me. "It was my father's and is precious to me far
beyond its intrinsic value; and I shall hold you accountable for it some
day. Take it at once, though, rather than recall the person before me
with whose presence you menace me. Keep it yourself, however; I would
rather deal with you than the others, false as you have shown yourself
to every promise."
"I wish you would be reasonable," she said, "and do what your friends
ask of you. This confinement is wearing us both out; it will be the
death of me, and you will be to blame."
"The sooner the better," I rejoined, heartlessly.
"Ah, Miss Monfort, you have no better friend than I am, perhaps, but you
"I hope not; but some things of late have shaken, I confess, what little
faith I had in you; this confiscation of my property is one of them."
"You know why this is done; I need not explain, but I shall trust you
fearlessly in Dinah's society in future. I believe you have no other
treasure to bribe her with," and, smiling in her sardonic way, she
turned and limped to her bedroom, which it had cost her so great an
effort to leave. Her groans and moans during the remainder of the
evening were piteous, and Dinah could do nothing to comfort her. A
sudden determination possessed me. My own system recuperated rapidly,
and after a nervous headache I was always conscious of renewed vital
power and of keener sensations. I would try the experiment once
more--hazarded under circumstances so different that it made me
tremulous but to think of the vast abyss between my _now_ and then--and
essay, to magnetize Mrs. Clayton.
She could not sleep naturally, and she feared evidently to avail herself
of opiates, lest in her heavy slumber, perhaps, I should escape. In her
normal condition this seemed impossible, for she slept habitually as
lightly as a cat, or bird upon its perch, yet lying, and with her key
beneath her head (never dreaming of other outlet) she felt at ease. I
had already learned that since her illness there were additional
precautions taken to insure my safety, and, as she had alleged, her own
The Dragon was watched in turn by a Cerberus--no other than the
long-trusted colored coachman of Basil Bainrothe, of whom mention has
been made far back in these pages.
Thus secure and secured, Mrs. Clayton might have surrendered herself to
slumber with all serenity, one would suppose, had it not absolutely
refused to visit her eyelids, and the suggestion of an opiate, on my
part, was received for some reason in dumb derision.
I went to her at last, and said: "Mrs. Clayton, I hear you groaning
grievously, and I fancy I could relieve you. The laying on of hands is a
sort of gift of mine; let me try by such means to ease your pain."
"Thank you, Miss Monfort," very dryly, "you are very kind, indeed, but I
don't think you can relieve me. I have excruciating neuralgia in my
eyebones and temples, and my hands are cramped again. Dinah has been
rubbing, without bettering them, for the last half hour."
"Let me try," and, without farther parley, I sat down to my
self-appointed, loathed, and detested task, first quietly dismissing
Dinah to the next room, where Ernie was eating his supper, and I knew
would soon be wanting to be put to bed. We changed places for a time,
and it was not long before Mrs. Clayton pronounced the pain in her eyes
"almost gone." The experiment was a desperate one, and I bore to it all
the powers of my organization--mental and physical--and had the
satisfaction in less than an hour to see her sleeping profoundly. She
had been failing fast under her painful vigils, and I knew that a few
hours of refreshing sleep would be worth to her more than all the drugs
in the Pharmacopoeia. Now came the test which was to make this slumber
worth nothing or every thing to me. If she could be awakened from it
without my coincidence, it would prove, perhaps, only a snare to my
feet, but if her waking depended on my will, then might I indeed hope to
baffle my Dragon, and, as far as she was concerned, make sure of my
escape. I willed then earnestly that she should sleep until twelve
o'clock; and at ten, when Dinah became impatient to retire, I gave her
permission, in order to gain egress to try and arouse Mrs. Clayton.
In consequence of this immurement of our servant, I had remained
supperless--beyond the crusts of bread left by Ernie and some cold tea
in Mrs. Clayton's teapot, of which I partook with an appetite born of
exhaustion. Those who have undertaken this "laying on of hands," for the
purpose of soothing pain, will comprehend what the succeeding sensation
of nerveless prostration is--those only--and give me their sympathy.
From her errand to arouse our sleeper in quest of the key, of course
Dinah returned disconsolate. Greatly to my satisfaction, she stated that
it was "out ob de question to try to git her eyes open. Why honey," she
pursued, "ef I didn't know what a steady-goin' Christian creetur she
was, I mout suppose she had bin 'bibin' of whisky or peach-brandy--dat's
de sleepiest stuff goin', chile; but I does believe she has the fallin'
fits, caze, even wen I pulled open one corner of her eyes, dey was
rolled clean back in her head. Mebbe she's dyin', chile, an' ef she
is--but no!" she muttered, "dat ole creetur down-stairs nebber leaves
dem back-doors open one minute, you had better believe, even ef he
happens to turn his back a spell, an' it would be no use tryin' to git
out ob de 'stablishment dat way, but I knows whar she keeps her key, an'
I kin go to bed myself if you say so, an' you kin lock de do' inside,
an' lay de key back undernefe her pillow: you see dar's a bolt outside,
too, honey, an' I means to draw dat after me, as ole Caleb always does
ob nights wen he goes to bed."
Chuckling low at the manifest disappointment in my face, she
disappeared, to return almost instantly.
"I thought she must be possumin'," she said, "but I know she is as fas'
asleep now as de bar' in de hollow ob a tree in cole wedder, for she
made no 'sistance like wen I grabbed de key from undernefe her head, an'
here it is, chile, an' ef you wants to try your 'speriment you kin, but
I spec you'd better wait a spell," and she looked cunningly at me;
"dere's traps everywhar in dese woods!"
It occurred to me as well that Mrs. Clayton might be feigning slumber,
having penetrated my design of lulling and soothing her fitful spirit to
rest; and feeling, as I did, an utter want of confidence in Sabra, not
only as free agent but as watched attendant, I determined as far as in
me lay to disarm suspicion by duplicity. So I lifted up my voice in
testimony of deceit, and declared my weariness of bondage to be such
that I had determined to embrace Mr. Bainrothe's conditions, and that in
a few days I should be free again without assistance.
"So take the key, Dinah," I said, after observing it closely, and
perceiving that it was several sizes larger than that I had made, as
clumsy as that was, and, therefore, could be of no use to me. "Let
yourself out, and bolt the door behind you, and Mrs. Clayton shall see
that I will take no mean advantage of her slumbers."
This arrangement having been carried with speedy effect, I returned to
my own chamber after a close scrutiny of Mrs. Clayton's condition, and
employed myself at once in running my penknife around the door concealed
by my bed-head, and thus loosening the paper, pasted on cotton cloth,
that covered it, from that of the wall, with which it was connected so
intimately as to make the whole surface within the chamber seem to form
Long before this I had cut that which surrounded the lock, so that it
lay like a flap, over it, fastened down lightly, however, with
gum-arabic (part of Ernie's draught for a catarrh), so as to baffle
slight inspection. My heart beat wildly as, after having effected this
preliminary step, I cautiously unlocked the door, which, for aught I
knew, might be, like that of Mrs. Clayton's closet, bolted without, so
as to frustrate all my efforts. It opened outwardly, and could have been
readily so secured.
In the great providence of God, it was not bolted. I sank on my knees,
weak and prayerful, I remember, as the door swung slightly back,
revealing the platform beyond, and the short stair that led from it up
to the second story. The hinges creaked a little, and these I hastened
to oil; then closing and relocking the door softly, I crept (without
pushing my bedstead back again the few inches I had wheeled it forward)
to look once more upon the sleeping face of Mrs. Clayton.
It was still calm and unconscious. Ernie, too, slumbered peacefully.
Every thing seemed propitious to my purpose. I threw on hastily the
famous, flimsy black silk and mantle that had been prepared for me on
shipboard, tied a dark veil over my head, and, with no other
precaution, went forth, as I hoped, to freedom.
My heart seemed to suspend its action as, cautiously unlocking and
opening the door, I stepped forth on the platform. It will be remembered
that I knew the topography of the lower part of the house of old
I had been entertained there with my father more than once, when, as
heiress of my mother's great estate, I had commanded the reverence of my
hosts, and the situation of parlors, study, and dining-room, was
perfectly familiar to me.
It was what in those days was called a single house, though a
spacious-enough mansion; that is, all the rooms, with one exception,
were placed either on the same side of the wide hall of entrance, or
behind it in the ell. The study alone formed a small lateral projection
on the other hand. The door of this apartment opened at the foot of
that-stair, on the upper platform of which I now stood trembling,
weighing my fate by a hair. I had left the door ajar through which I had
crept quietly, so that, in case of failure, I might have a chance of
retreat before discovery should be made. It was well, perhaps, that I
did so on this occasion, for otherwise I should scarcely have had nerve
enough to avoid the sure and speedy detection which must have followed
the slightest delay or noise made in returning.
I lingered to reconnoitre some minutes on the platform before I ventured
to commence the wary descent of the broad, carpeted stairway. I had
convinced myself that the second story was empty, though a lighted lamp
swung in the upper entry, as well as in that below, throwing a flood of
radiance on the scene with which I would fain have dispensed.
I heard the sound of voices from the closed parlors, and saw reposing
on the rack before me several hats and canes, indicative of visitors.
From the study, however, there fortunately came no murmur, and I found
that it was dark. The front-door stood invitingly open; I could see the
opposite lamp-post without, and I had made up my mind to dart on and
downward, and reach at a bound the pavement, when the door of the first
parlor was suddenly thrown back, and left so, by a servant coming out
with a tray of wines and fruits which he had been evidently handing, and
I had just time to shrink into shadow, favored in my wish for
concealment by the black dress and veil I wore, when a once familiar
form appeared in the door-way of the front hall, which I recognized at a
glance as that of Gregory. Closing the door firmly after him, he
prepared to divest himself of hat and cape in the hall, without a look
in my direction. After the completion of which process he entered the
parlor by the nearest door, setting that also wide open as he did so,
with some exclamation about the heat of the apartment, which seemed to
meet with acquiescence from the powers within.
I caught a panoramic view of that interior before I fled swiftly,
noiselessly, hopelessly, back to my cage again, having lost my only
chance of escape by that fatal delay of five minutes on the platform. I
should have been out and away on the wings of the wind ere Gregory
entered the inclosure before the house, had I not hesitated. Yet, after
all, perhaps, I miscalculated. What if I had met him face to face--been
seized and dragged back again to captivity! Perchance it was better as
it was. Time would develop and determine this; but, in the interval, how
woful was my disappointment!
I had time to get to bed again, and in some degree recover my
composure; indeed, I had been in bed an hour when the clock in the
dining-room beneath me, which, since the evident occupancy of that
long-deserted hall, had been wound and put in running order, struck
twelve, with its deep-mouthed, melodramatic tones, and at the very
moment I heard sounds indicative of the resurrection of the mesmeric
She was evidently startled in some way on finding herself awake again,
or perhaps from having fallen so soundly asleep in hands like mine, for
she called aloud first for "Dinah," then, repeatedly, on "Miriam," both
without effect. In a few moments after these appeals had died away she
came in person, as I knew she would, to reconnoitre.
The bedstead had been pushed carefully and noiselessly back again on its
grooved castors against the door, from the lock of which the wooden key
had been removed, rewashed in oil, and hidden away in that hollow
aperture in the bedstead, which formed a perfect box, by the skillful
readjustment of one loosened compartment of the veneering of the massive
She shook me slightly, and I rose in my bed with a start and shudder,
admirably simulated, I fancied, and which completely deceived her
evidently. "I am sorry to have startled you so," she said, hurriedly,
"but where is Dinah, Miss Monfort, and how did she get out?"
"I really cannot inform you where she is," I answered, petulantly. "I
scarcely think it was worth while to disturb me for the sake of asking
me a question you must have known my inability to answer."
"But how did she get out, Miss Harz?"
"By means of the key under your head, which you will find in the lock,
no doubt, where it was left. She promised me, insolently enough, to
bolt the door outside to prevent egress, and I, to prevent ingress,
locked it within."
"So she assured you we were both prisoners by night, did she? Well, I am
glad you have proof at last of what I told you."
"I have no proof; but, as I have made up my mind to come to terms of
some kind very soon, I thought it useless to investigate. Do you feel
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