Catherine A. Warfield
Part 9 out of 9
way, the men at watch from the carriage-windows must have espied and
seized me--or, had we loitered in the alley, and arrived a moment later
at the central house of Kendrick Row, there is no doubt that they would
have been there to await my arrival, nor could Mr. Burress have saved me
from their clutches--the whole thing seemed especially providential;
but, as the efficient medium of such mercy, Napoleon B. Burress did,
indeed, seem to all present crowned with a perfect nimbus of glory. Dr.
Pemberton led him back to my presence with his arm encircling his
shoulder; Captain Wentworth shook his hand mutely but long, with his
eyes dimmed with tears, and words that found imperfect utterance, at
last compelling him to strange silence.
"I thank you, I bless you," he said, at last. "I do not hope to be able
to return such services, but, what I _can do_, command."
"And I to think that she was crazy all the time; escaped from the great
asylum a mile away. Sweetest creature, too, I ever saw in my life; and
Caleb thought so, too."
The speaker brushed a briny drop or two from his eyes with the back of
his hand as he spoke; then, smiling archly, asked:
"Can you forgive me, miss, for belying you so, even in thought? You see,
I have made a clean breast of it now; but such a pity!"
"Forgive you?" And I advanced toward him, and put both my hands in one
of his large white extremities, and, before I knew what I was doing, I
had stooped over and kissed it, and was bathing it with my tears.
"O miss! this is too much; it is, indeed!" said Napoleon B., blushing
to the roots of his hair, and withdrawing his hand with a
slightly-mortified air; "you nonplus me completely."
"You see she was too much overcome, Mr. Burress, to speak otherwise than
this," said Wentworth, drawing me to his bosom. "You must honor this
expression of feeling as I do."
"O sir! it is the greatest honor I ever received in my life; and she,
poor thing, like Penelope, tangled up in a web so long, and free at
last! Well, it is a great joy to me to think I helped a little to cut
"Helped! Why, I owe every thing to you. Listen," and then as briefly as
I could I recounted the trials in store for me that very night--the
compulsory marriage, or the removal to the belfry-tower--one or the
other inevitable, and either of which must have made the proposed rescue
of the following day, on the part of Captain Wentworth and his friends,
in one sense or the other unavailing. As the wife of Gregory, or as the
prisoner of the turret, I should in one case have been morally, and in
the other physically, dead or lost forever!
Mutely, and tearfully even, was my skill in setting forth the magnitude
of the wrong, from which Mr. Burress had been instrumental in saving me,
acknowledged by my audience, not excepting Jenny the house-maid, who,
arrested on the threshold, stood wiping her eyes with her neat cotton
apron in token of sympathy.
"Caleb will be wondering what has become of me, and tired out of
watching if I don't go home at once," said Mr. Burress, after his
emotion had subsided, and accepting gracefully the civic crown with
which he had been metaphorically rewarded. Mine was in store, but how
could he dream of this?
A statue of the Greek Slave, a copy made by a master-hand, soon adorned
his window, and his bride wore pearls of price, the joint gift of Miriam
and Wardour Wentworth, a twelvemonth later, when a mistress of the
emporium was brought home, much to the solace of Caleb, who was
remembered by us also, let me not forget to add.
Truly kind and benevolent as he was, Napoleon Burress had a despotic
manner, which relaxed beneath the genial smile of Marian March.
"I must go, indeed, my dear sir" (to Dr. Pemberton), "but this night
will be memorable in my annals. God bless you all! Farewell. Afraid of
an encounter? Not I. Like Horatio Cockleshell of old, I learned to carry
pistols constantly about me when I had to pass the bridge every night as
a youngster. My parents lived in Hamilton village. I still keep up the
custom, and therefore pay my fine yearly to the council."
"When at last we separated, the clock was on the stroke of one, and I
went to a clean and quiet chamber above the little study, where a bright
fire was burning, but whence the smell of lavender, which always
accompanies the fresh sheets of Quakerhood, still prevailed with a
summer-like fragrance. The attentive house-maid disrobed me, and bathed
my chilled and frosted feet and swollen hands in water tempered with
alcohol. Then arraying me in a mob-cap and snowy cotton gown, the
property of good Mrs. Jessup, placed me in the soft nest prepared for
sojourners beneath that homely but hospitable roof.
"I hope thee is comfortable, Miriam Monfort," said Mrs. Jessup, after I
was ensconced in bed. "Why, thy face is the same, after all, that I
remember when thou wert a very little girl, and used to walk out with
Mrs. Austin. She is well, I hope?" settling the bed-cover.
"I cannot tell you, Mrs. Jessup. I must rather ask such questions of
you. When did you see her last? and Mabel--do you know my little
"Oh, yes, I know her perfectly well by sight. Let me see, it was Sabbath
before last that, just as I was coming out of Friends' meeting-house, I
saw Mabel Monfort, a pretty maiden, truly, walking with her step-sister,
I think, and a tall and stately gentleman. But Mrs. Austin I have not
seen since last rose-time, and then only in passing. She seemed well,
but wore a troubled face."
"Yes, yes; she was troubled, no doubt, things were so altered; and, if
her heart had not turned to stone, she must have thought of me sometimes
regretfully. But all bids fair now, Mrs. Jessup, both for me and her,
and for Mabel. For the rest, let them go--they are fiends!"
"Thee has a very flushed and hot cheek, Miriam, now that I see thee
closely and touch thy face"--doing so lightly with the back of her hand
as she spoke. "A bowl of sage-tea would, no doubt, be of service to
thee; shall I--"
"Oh, no, Mrs. Jessup; I never could drink that wise stuff in the world.
I have just had a good supper, and am excited, that is all. Jenny will
tell you what she overheard concerning my escape of to-night, and that
will account for all."
"Good-night, then, Miriam; may the Lord have thee in his care this
night"--and she withdrew, followed by Jenny, eager, no doubt, to
commence the recital of my adventure, or to hear what more Captain
Wentworth and Dr. Pemberton had to say on the subject.
It was nearly daylight when they parted, one to snatch a few hours of
needful slumber before setting out on his professional tour, the other
to go at once to the officers of justice, and, at the very earliest hour
possible, obtain the authority to arrest the brace of arch-conspirators,
still protected by the shadows of the dawn.
For Justice has its time of sleeping and waking in large cities, and
will not be denied its meals, its hours of rest, and even recreation. So
it was seven o'clock in the cold November morning before the proper
ceremonials could be accomplished which placed it in the power of
Wentworth to arraign Basil Bainrothe and Luke Gregory.
He occupied one seat in the hackney-coach, which was otherwise filled by
the officers of the law; but, when he rang a sonorous peal on the portal
bell of Bainrothe's residence, it was unanswered, and, though the house
had been watched since daylight by an armed police force, who had no
connection with McDermot, it was found, when an entrance had been
effected, that the only inhabitants of the mansion were a sick woman, an
old negress, and a child, apparently, from its puny size, about a
twelvemonth old. The woman could not be aroused from the coma in which
she seemed to have fallen, either as a crisis of her disease or a
precursor of death (medical opinion was divided), until suddenly, about
noon, she waked, perfectly clear in mind and comfortable in body, and
called loudly for nourishment!
I had slept profoundly until that hour, and my first thought in waking
was of Mrs. Clayton and her probable condition; then came the
concentrated effort necessary for her release; and she, too, awoke, as I
have shown, to consciousness and physical ease.
Her surprise, her indignation, at being thus deserted, surpassed even
her disappointment at my escape, and her involuntary somnolency was a
theme of self-reproach and marvel both. But all yielded in turn to
terror when she found herself under arrest in her own chamber, in
company with her fellow-conspirator Sabra.
The child was brought to me, at my earnest request, and, during the few
days of my sojourn under Dr. Pemberton's roof, managed to make friends
of all around him. His deformity soon became a matter of interest and
medical examination, and it was decided that it was not beyond the reach
of surgical skill.
The process would be very gradual, Dr. Pemberton thought, of
straightening the spinal curvature; but, should the health of the child
prove good after his tardy and difficult dentition, much might be hoped
from the aid of Nature herself. This was joyous intelligence to me.
The noble soul of Ernie should still wear a fitting frame, and the
stature of his kind be accorded to him! The "picaninny" wicked old Sabra
had gloated on as a dainty morsel, on the raft, might live to put Fate
itself to shame; for had I not marveled that his mother even should care
to preserve a thing so frail and wretched, when we sat hand-in-hand
together on the burning ship? And, later, had I not pondered over the
wisdom of his preservation? Who, then, shall penetrate the mysteries of
Claude Bainrothe had been arrested, but, after close and thorough
examination, was dismissed as irresponsible for and ignorant of his
father's acts and designs, a sentence afterward revoked, as far as
public opinion was concerned.
Evelyn, Mabel, and Mrs. Austin, were, of course, beyond suspicion--the
last two deservedly so; and if, indeed, Evelyn had been guilty of
cooeperation, I knew it had been through the force of circumstances
alone, too potent for her egotism and vanity. She never wished to
destroy, only to govern me, and make my being and interests subordinate
to her own. Mrs. Austin and Mabel received me with earnest joy, and
Evelyn even manifested a decent sense of sisterly gratulation.
I never saw Claude Bainrothe nor entered my father's house until after
he had left it and forever--accompanied not by his wife, who lingered
behind in distress and wretched dependence, most bitter to a spirit like
hers, neither loving to give or receive favors--for, gathering up all of
his own and his father's valuables, and drawing from the bank every
dollar he could command, this worthy son of an unprincipled sire fled to
join his parent, with his minion, Ada Greene. Evelyn had been for some
time sensible of his infatuation, and striven vainly to combat it by
every means in her power, forbearance having been her first alternative,
vivid reproach her last. But experiments had failed. The first only
fostered guilt beneath her own roof--the last urged it to its
Still young and beautiful, she was deserted by the only man she had ever
loved--the being for whom she had ruthlessly sacrificed the welfare of
her sisters and every sentiment of honor; to whom she had given up her
liberty to pander to his and his father's ignominy, and her home to
In her great grief she retired to the solitude of her own chamber, and
refused to see any face save that of Mrs. Austin, who from this period
became her sole attendant, even after time had somewhat ameliorated the
first agony incident to her condition.
For there came to her another phase of being which made this attendance
no less a necessity than her present form of bitter and helpless grief.
Hope revived, but in a form that promised no fruition, and which later
will be made plainer to the reader. Just now I must continue my
Old Martin was dead of paralysis, after praying vainly to be spared to
see his master's child return and take possession of her own, for he had
never believed in my suicide, an idea that Bainrothe had taken pains to
propagate. Nor did he lend any faith to my demise; knowing what he did,
he believed that I had gone to England to get assistance from my
mother's relatives--and Mrs. Austin had shared his opinion; she had
nursed him to the last, faithfully, and Evelyn had been tolerant of his
presence. This, at least, was a consolation.
Sabra and Mrs. Clayton were not prosecuted, and I did, perhaps, the most
inexorable act of my life when I refused to see either of them again, or
assist them to more than a mere subsistence until health could be
restored to the one and her "owners" written to in order that the other
might be reclaimed to bondage, in which condition alone she, and such as
she, can be restrained from wrongdoing. "For there are devils on the
earth," says Swedenborg, "as well as angels, and they both wear human
guise--but by this may we know them, that no mortal ties bind them, no
sphere confines them. They walk abroad, the one solely to evil for its
own sake, the other to universal good for the Father. Such as these die
not, but are translated, the one to hell, the other to heaven."
Do we not right, then, to confine and enslave devils while they abide
with us, or, if we can, to destroy them utterly? And if we discern them,
shall we not adore God's angels?
These dwell not long among us, and their eyes are fixed always with a
far, pure yearning for some sphere in which we have no part. We feel
this in our daily intercourse with them, for angels like these dwell
often in the lowliest form about us, and our common contact with them
thrills and awes us, though we scarcely realize that it is from them we
have these sensations, or what renders them so far, though near at hand!
Little children, submissive slaves, sad women, unresisting men, patient
physicians, great patriots, persistent preachers, martyr poets--all
these forms and phases in turn do our associate angels enter into and
But ever the sign is there! They are not ours! Among us, but not of
us--set apart, here for a season be it, longer or shorter, ready at any
time to spread their wings! My sister was of these--I did not recognize
this truth in the time of my great sorrow, when the parting plumes had
not revealed themselves to my undiscerning eyes.
A mighty touchstone has been applied to these earthly orbs since then,
and the power to discriminate has been given to my soul. As Gregory and
Sabra were devils, I verily believe, so was Mabel one of Swedenborg's
angels. Who shall gainsay me? Who knows more than I on this subtle
subject? Not the wisest theologian that lives and breathes this earthly
air! Only those who never speak to enlighten us, and who have passed
into infinite light and knowledge through the portals of the grave.
When I knelt beside Wardour Wentworth in the old church of chimes a
fortnight after my emancipation from the thraldom of demons, I acquired
with this new allegiance of mine a more Christian and forbearing spirit
than had ever before possessed me; but the pearl of great price came not
yet. Into the deeps of sorrow was my soul first compelled to enter, a
diver in the great ocean, whence alone all such precious pearls are
Notice had been given to Claude Bainrothe to evacuate my father's
premises before my return from the brief wedding-trip which comprised
business as well as recreation. Captain Wentworth took me with him to
Richmond and to Washington, to both of which places his affairs led him.
In the last I had the pleasure of grasping Old Hickory by his honest
hand. He was my husband's patron and benefactor, and as such alone
entitled to my regard; but there was more. As patriot, soldier,
gentleman in the truest sense of the word, I have not seen his peer.
It was a great delight to me, in spite of the shadow Evelyn's grief
threw over our threshold, to stand once more as mistress in my father's
house, even in the wreck of fortune, and control the education and
destiny of my young sister. Little Ernie, too, had his place in the
household as son by adoption, and grew daily stronger and more vigorous
in our sight, the thoughtful, loving, and reticent child, heralding the
man of power, affection, and principle, that he has become.
The employment of my husband lay near the city of my nativity. He was
occupied in making the great railroad through Jersey that was the
pioneer of engineering progress, and a mighty link between two kindred
States. He was in this way, though often absent, never for any length of
time, and his return was always a fresh source of joy to his household.
Mabel worshiped him; Ernie silently revered; Evelyn with all of her
growing peculiarities acknowledged he had merit; and Mrs. Austin
regarded him with mingled awe and affection, for to her he was
singularly kind and affectionate.
"To grow old in servitude," he would say, "what sadder fate can befall
any being, or more entitle him or her to forbearance and respect? What
life-long hardships does this condition not impose? And this is a field
for universal charity, which costs not much, only a little patience and
a few kind words and smiles."
Ours was a happy household; no cloud rested upon it, save for a few
brief days of illness or discomfort, until the great blow fell. In her
seventeenth year and on the eve of her marriage with Norman Stansbury
(again our neighbor, at intervals, when he came to visit his relatives,
a man of noble qualities and singularly devoted to my sister), Mabel
died suddenly of some secret disease of the heart which had simulated
radiant health and bloom.
I had sometimes observed with anxiety a slight shortness of breath, a
gasping after unusual exercise, and called the attention of physicians
to this state of things in my sister, who regarded it merely as a
nervous symptom, and this was all to indicate that the fell destroyer
was silently at work. She had just laid a bunch of white roses on her
toilet, and crossed the chamber for water to place them in, when she
called my name in a strange, excited way, that brought me speedily to
her side from the adjoining room. She was lying white and speechless on
her bed, beside which the crystal goblet lay in fragments.
The waters of her own existence had flowed forthwith those prepared for
her flowers, and before assistance could be summoned she expired
peacefully in my arms, without a struggle. She had inherited her
The anguish, and disappointment of the lover, and my own despair, maybe
better imagined than portrayed. My baby died a few weeks later--partly,
I think, from the effect of my own condition on her frail organization,
and the hope of years was blighted in this fragile blossom--the first
that had blessed our union.
The little Constance slumbered by Mabel's side, and a slip from that
bunch of white roses, the last my sister had gathered, shadows the
marbles that guard both of those now-distant, yet not neglected graves.
Thus death at last entered our happy household!
A great shadow fell over me, which I vainly strove to dispel with all
the effort of my reason and my will. Physicians, remembering my mother's
inscrutable melancholy--a part of that mysterious malady that consumed
her life--whispered their warnings in my husband's ears, and he
resolved, with that energy which belongs to men of his nature, to lay
the axe at once to the root of this evil in the only way that presented
itself to his mind--as possible of accomplishment.
At first I resisted faintly the coincidence of his will, which he knew
was sure to come sooner or later; and to the very last it was agony
unspeakable to me, to think that my father's house should pass into the
hands of strangers, and that the place that knew me should know me no
Very resolutely and calmly did Wardour endure and stem my opposition.
Swift and strong as the current of my will flowed naturally, he was ever
its master, as the stone dam can stay and lull the fiercest rivers. He
persisted, knowing well what was at stake, and to my surprise Dr:
Pemberton and Mr. Gerald Stansbury cooperated with his decision. Nor did
Mr. Lodore oppose it, though losing thereby one of his most liberal
A great struggle was going on in my heart just then--that I think
would have perished in darkness, had I not found myself free and
emancipated from all fetters of custom and observance by our change of
From the shallow streams of conventional Christianity, moving with tardy
current, and full of shoals and sandbanks, I was drifting down, slowly
but surely, with that great ocean of deep and unsounded religion, to
which all profound natures, that have suffered, do, I believe--if left
to themselves--inevitably tend.
In this new land of promise--the golden California--lying like a bride
by the side of her bridegroom--the great Pacific Ocean--and shut away
by deserts and mountains, from all old conventional cliques and
prejudices of our Eastern cities, my soul took wing. What poetry was in
me found its outlet; what religious capacity God had endued me with,
went forth from the clash of cymbals and the sound of the sackbut, that
ever had reminded me, in all seasons of sorrow, or even of joyous
excitement, that I was one of an ancient people, astray in foreign
pastures--went forth (even as the compromise was made at first by Christ
and his apostles with the magnificent but soulless worship of the Jews)
to merge these sounds of ancient rite and form in the deep roll of the
organ, that fills the churches where the Host is present.
I needed this abiding miracle to stay my faith--to give it a new
rapture, never experienced before--to sustain me in my sorrow. In the
presence of the holy Eucharist--in the sweet belief that saints communed
with me, and that the Mother of God, who, like me, had wept and
suffered, interceded for me at the throne of Christ, I regained the
vitality that seemed gone forever.
There is no cup like this for the lips of the parched and weary
Let me go back a little in this retrospect, into which I am compelling
into a small space much that would take time in the telling, as a
necessary retrenchment for too much affluence of description in the
The mind of the narrator, like the stone descending the shaft, gathers
accelerated velocity with its momentum toward the last, and so expends
itself in a more brief and sententious manner than in the commencement.
It should be also, but rarely is, more powerful, and more condensed as
it nears its _finale_.
Why these things do _not_ go more uniformly together, as according to
popular opinion they invariably must, is better understood by the artist
than his readers.
Details are requisite to fill up a mental picture, and impress it on the
memory, and, though brevity is certainly the soul of wit, it cannot be
said to be infallible in enforcing description to do its duty--that of
painting a panoramic picture on the brain.
Life is full of pre-Raphaelitism, and so is fiction, if indeed it
resembles life--such as we know it, or such as it might be. The art of
verisimilitude is found alone in detail.
Let me go back, then, for a brief summary of some of the principal
events and personages of Monfort Hall and Beauseincourt, the earlier
portions of this retrospect. I will begin with the La Vignes.
George Gaston, in one of the brief pauses of his stormy political
career, wooed and married Margaret La Vigne, the year before her mother
espoused in second nuptials her early lover (the brother of that saintly
minister who came to her rescue in the first days of her widowhood), and
in this marriage she has been happy and prosperous.
They continue to reside under the same roof, and Bellevue awaits its
master. It will be empty, I think, if I understand George Gaston's
character, so long as Major Favraud is a wanderer on the face of the
Continent of Europe, and held, for his especial benefit and return, in
Vernon and his sweet wife Marion spent the first season of their happy
married life under my lintel-tree, and are now our nearest neighbors in
our new land of sojourn. A slender iron fence divides our grounds from
theirs. A golden cord of affection binds our lives together. Our
interests, too, are the same.
Vernon is leagued with my husband in the great engineering projects
which have enriched them both--the capital to enlist in which sphere
of enterprise was furnished by the sale to a company of our
"gold-gashed" lands in Georgia--revealed to my knowledge, as it may be
remembered, by the inadvertence of Gregory.
The career of Bertie La Vigne had been a varied one, as might have been
foreseen perhaps from her early manifestations and proclivities.
She came to me, while still we dwelt in the city of my birth, when she
was approaching her seventeenth year, and remained a twelvemonth under
my roof, engaged in the study of Shakespeare with that accomplished
_artiste_ Mr. Mortimer. She intended to pursue what gift she had of
voice and histrionic talent as a means of livelihood, she told me from
the first, and to get rid of the ineffable weariness and monotony of her
life at Beauseincourt as well.
The two motives seemed to me to be worthy of all praise. There are,
indeed, abodes that kill the soul as well as the body, and this was one
of them in my estimation, yet I remembered as a seeming inconsistency
that, when, in her sixteenth year, it was proposed that Bertie should
come to me for the purpose of attending schools for the accomplishments,
she steadily refused to do so.
Her sense of duty might have been at the root of this firm and
persistent refusal to accept from my hand a gift richer far than "jewels
of the mine"--the power of varied occupation--but something had secretly
whispered to me that this was not all on which her apparent
self-abnegation was based, and I think that I was right in my
Have you seen a plant, scathed by frost, that has made a strong and
successful effort to live, and still in its struggling existence bears
the mark of the early blight on leaf and blossom?
Such was the impression made on my mind by Bertie La Vigne after three
years of separation, and yet she had grown into majestic stature and
into comparative beauty since we parted at Beauseincourt.
Tall, slender, straight as a young palm-tree, with exquisite
extremities, and a face of aristocratic if not Grecian proportions,
there still was wanting in her step, her eye, her smile, that wonderful
_abandon_ that had formed her chief charm in her earlier years.
She had been crystallized, so to speak, by some strange process of
suffering, into a cold and dull propriety, never infringed on save at
times when she found herself alone with me, and when the old
frolic-spirit would for a little time possess her. It was not dead, but
"And what, my dear Bertie," I said, one day, when Mr. Mortimer had
departed, and she came to throw herself down on the sofa in my chamber
and _rest_, "what has reconciled you to the old Parrot, as you used to
call our sublime Shakespeare?"
"Sublime! I shall think you affected, Miriam, if you apply that word
again to that old commonplace. If he were sublime, do you suppose all
the world would read him or go to see his plays? Do reserve that epithet
for Milton, Dante, Tasso, Schiller, and the like inaccessibilities. Yes,
I do revere 'Wallenstein' more than any thing Shakespeare ever
spouted"--in answer to my gently-shaking head--"I should break down over
_Thekla_, I should, indeed."
"Do you think his bed was soft under the war-horses?"--and she waved her
hand--"O God! what a tragedy; what a love!" and she covered her face
with her quivering palm.
"Bertie, you are still too excitable. I am sorry to see it."
"Philosopher, cure thyself."
"Yes, I know that was always a fault of mine."
"That is why you married the man in the iron mask, you know. I could
never have loved that person."
"Describe the man you think you could have loved, Bertie La Vigne."
"Could have loved? That time is past forever, child. 'Frozen, and dead
forever,' as Shelley says. _He_ was my affinity, I believe, only he died
before I was born. What a pity! I would rather be his widow than the
wife of any man living."
"_She_ would like to hear that, no doubt, Bertie."
"Well, she may hear it if she chooses when I go to England to read the
old Parrot in the right way, under their very noses, Kembles and all.
I'll let Mrs. Shelley know I'm there," and she laughed merrily.
"And what is your idea of the way to read Shakespeare, Bertie dear?" I
"As one having authority, a head and shoulders above him and all his
prating, just as you would talk to your every-day next neighbor, read
him without any fear of his old deer-stealing ghost? Why, Miriam, he
knew himself better than we knew him. He had no more idea of being a
genius than you have! He was a sort of artesian well of a man, and could
not help spouting platitudes, that was all. Besides, he had eyes to see
and ears to hear, and a very Yankee spirit of investigation. It is the
fashion to crack him up like the Bible, both encyclopaedias, that's all!
Every man can see himself in these books, and every man likes a
looking-glass, and that's the whole secret of their success."
"Bertie, you are incorrigible."
"No, I am not; only genuine. I do think there is a good deal in both of
the works in question, but their sublimity I dispute. They are homely,
coarse, commonplace, as birth and death."
There was something that almost froze my blood in the way she said those
last words, lying back upon the sofa with far-off-looking eyes and hands
clasped beneath her head.
"Miriam," she said, after a while, "life is a humbug. I have thought so
for some time."
"Poor child, poor child!"
"Ay, poorer than the poorest, Miriam Harz," and, laying aside my work, I
went to and knelt beside her, and kissed her brow.
"I have no soul to open! I am as empty as a chrysalis-case, that the
butterfly has gone out of to dwell amid sunshine and flowers. Yet I
believe I had one once"--in ineffably mournful accents--"but two men
killed it; and yet, neither intended the blow! O Miriam! I understand at
last what Coleridge meant by his 'life in death.' There is such a
thing--and that great necromancer found it out! I am the breathing
impersonation of that loathly thing, I believe. Listen"--and she sat up
with one raised finger and gave the poet's words with rare expression:
"'The nightmare--life in death was she,
That chilled men's blood with cold.'
"Doesn't that describe me as I am, Miriam?"
"You are, indeed, much changed, Bertie; perhaps it would be well could
you confide in me."
"No, it would not be well! I never could keep any thing wholly to
myself, neither can I tell it wholly, even to such as you--reticent!
merciful! But this believe, I have done nothing wrong, nothing to be
ashamed of, to wear sackcloth and ashes for, and I am preparing to put
my foot on it all. Ay, from the snake's head of first discovery to the
snake's tail of the last disappointment, ranging over half a dozen
years! A long serpent, truly!" laughing. "But I mean to be galvanized
and get back my life. I am determined to be famous, rich, beautiful!"
and she nodded to me with the old sweet sparkle in her eye, the glad
smile on her lip.
"You laugh at the last threat!--laugh on! 'He who laughs best, laughs
last!' says the old proverb. There is such a thing as training one's
features, isn't there, as well as one's setters? Miriam, I shall develop
slowly; I am still in my very downiest adolescence as to looks. You will
see me when I have filled out and ripened, and when I put on my grand
Marie Antoinette _tenu_, some day! Hair drawn back, _a la Pompadour_,
powdered with gold-dust; a touch of rouge, perhaps, on either cheek;
ruffles of rich lace at shoulders and elbows; pink brocade and emeralds,
picked out with diamonds! Mr. Mortimer's teachings in every graceful
movement! It will be all humbug, for I have no real beauty, not much
grace; but people will think me beautiful and graceful for all that,
while I wear my costumes. They are several--this is only one--all highly
becoming! I have a vision of a sea-green dress and moss-roses; of a
violet-satin robe, trimmed and twisted everywhere with flowers of yellow
jasmine; of pale-gold and tipped marabouts in my hair; also of an azure
silk with blond and pearls and a tiara on my forehead" (she laughed
archly). "You don't know my capabilities, my dear, for appearing to look
well--they are wonderful!"
"The very prospect transfigures you, Bertie. I am glad you are so
"Were you courageous when you clung to your ropes on the sea-tossed
raft! No, Miriam! that was instinct--nothing more; and I, too, have very
strong intuitions of self-preservation. Heaven grant that they may be
successful! Let us pray."
And, with moving lips and down-drawn lids, from beneath which the large
tears stole one by one, like crystal globes, this suffering spirit
communed with its God, silently.
So best, I felt! Bertie was only a lip-deep scoffer. Her heart was open
to conviction yet, and, when the time came, I believed that the seed
sown in old days would germinate and bear good harvest. All was chaos
Shall I keep on with Bertie, now that the theme has possession of me,
and go back to the others when she is finally dismissed? I think this
will be wisest, especially as my space is small, and mood concentrative
rather than erratic.
Let us pass over, then, five eventful years, during which the sorrows
and changes I have spoken of had taken place, and Wentworth had fixed
his home in the vicinity of San Francisco.
I had heard of Bertie in the interval as a successful _debutante_ as a
reader of Shakespeare, and had received her sparse and sparkling letters
confirming report, truly "angel visits, few and far between."
At last one came announcing her intention of visiting California
professionally, and sojourning beneath my roof while in San Francisco.
It was to be a stay of several weeks.
She was accompanied and sometimes assisted by Mr. and Mrs. Mortimer,
professional readers both--the last distinguished more for grace and
beauty, even though now on the wane of life, than she ever had been for
talent, but eminently fitted, both by education and character, for a
guide and companion.
An English maid, as perfect as an automaton in her training and
regularity, accompanied Bertie, to whom were confided all details of
dress, all keys and jewels, with entire confidence and safety. An
elaborate doll seemed the red-and-white and stupidly-staring Euphemia.
Yet was she adroit, obedient, and expert, just to move in the groove of
I have spoken only of her accessories; but now for Bertie herself.
"Is she not magnificent?" was my exclamation when alone with my husband
on the night of her arrival, after our guest, with her sparkling face
and conversation, her superb toilet and bearing, her graceful,
nymph-like walk, had retired to her chamber, attended by the mechanical
The Mortimers, with their children and servants, remained at the
"The very word for her," he replied; "only that and nothing more."
"How little enthusiasm you possess about the beautiful! Now, if there
were question of a new railroad-bridge, the vocabulary would have been
"What would you have me say, dear? Is not that word a very comprehensive
one? The lady above-stairs is indeed magnificent; but, Miriam, where is
Bertie?" and he laughed.
"Ah! I understand; you find her artificial."
"She is too fine an actress for that, Miriam; only transfigured."
"Yes, I see what you mean" (sadly). "Bertie _is_ wholly changed. Whom
does she resemble, Wardour? What queen, bethink you, whose likeness you
have seen? Not Mary Queen of Scots--not Elizabeth--"
"No, surely not; but she is, now that you draw my attention to it,
strikingly like Marie Antoinette."
"She said she would be, and she has succeeded!" and I mused on the
Four years more, and we heard of Bertie in England, as the
rarely-gifted and beautiful American reader, "Lavinia La Vigne." Out of
the _repertoire_ of her family names she had fished up this
alliteration, and "Bertie" was reserved for those behind the scenes.
It was declared also in the public sheets, what great and distinguished
men were in her train; how wits bowed to her wit, and authors to her
criticisms! But, when she wrote to me, she said nothing of all this,
only telling of her visit to Mrs. Shelley, who had received her kindly,
and to the tomb of Shakespeare, whose painted effigy she especially
derided. "It looks indeed like a man who would cut his wife off with an
old feather-bed and a teakettle," was one of her characteristic remarks,
I remember; but there was a little postscript that told the whole story
of her life, on a separate scrap of paper meant only for my eye I
clearly saw, and committed instantly to the flames after perusal:
"Ah, Miriam, this is all a magic lantern! The people are phantoms, the
realities are shadows, and I a wretched humbug, duller than all! Two men
have lived and breathed for me on the face of this earth--two only. One
was my much-offending and deeply-suffering father. The other--O, Miriam,
to think of him is crime; but in his life, and that alone, I live. I
send you Praed's last beautiful little song--'Tell him I love him yet.'
It will tell you every thing. An answer I have scribbled to it as if
written by a man. Keep both, and when I am dead, should you survive me,
dear, lay them if you can in my coffin, close, close to my heart!"
Three years more, and Bertie is in Rome, independent, at last, through
her own exertions, and able to gratify her tastes. I receive thence
statues, and pictures, and cameos, all exquisite of their kind, her
princely gifts, her legacies. Then comes a long silence. She knew what
faith was mine when she last abode, beneath my roof and made herself a
little impertinently merry at my expense in consequence of this new
order of things.
Now comes a letter (a paper envelope accompanying it)--Bertie La Vigne
has entered the Catholic Church, through baptism and confirmation, so
briefly states the letter written in her own hand and of date some
months back, retained; no doubt, through forgetfulness, until reminded.
The paper, of recent issue, tells of the ceremony at St. Peter's, which
admitted to the novitiate several noble ladies, native and foreign, and
among the rest an _artist_ of merit, Miss Lavinia La Vigne, of Georgia,
United States of America.
On the margin of the paper were a few penciled words in her own
handwriting: "I have found the reality." This was all.
I shall never see her again unless I go to Rome, and then only through a
grating, or in the presence of others like herself, for she has taken
the black veil, and retired behind a shadow deep as that cast from the
cypress-shaded tomb. Yet, under existing circumstances, and in
consideration of her early experiences which no success nor later future
could obliterate, or render less unendurable, I believe she has chosen
the wiser part.
Peace be with thee, Bertie, whether in earth or in heaven!
Our home overlooks the calm bay of San Francisco, standing, as it does,
on an eminence, surrounded with stately forest-trees, and dark from a
distance with evergreens which trail their majestic branches over roods
These trees have ever been a passion with me. I love their aromatic
odors, reminding one of balm and frankincense, and the great Temple of
Solomon itself, built of fine cedar-wood. I admire their stately
symmetry, and the majesty of their unchanging presence, and stand well
pleased and invigorated in their shadow.
Our house is built of stone, and faced with white marble brought from
beyond the seas. Its architectural details are composite, and yet of
dream-like beauty and perfection.
There are statues and blooming plants in the great lower corridors and
porticos, and vast hall of entrance, oval and open to the roof, with its
marble gallery surrounding it and suspended midway, secured by its
exquisite and lace-like screen of iron balustrading. Pictures of the
great modern masters adorn the walls.
The skylight above floods the whole house with sunshine at the touching
of a cord, which controls the venetians that in summer-time shade the
halls below; and the parlors, and saloon, and library, and dining-room,
and the quiet, spacious chambers above-stairs, are all admirably
proportioned and finished, and furnished as well, for the comfort of
those that abide in them--hosts and guests.
In one of the most private and luxurious of these apartments abode, for
some years, a pale and shadowy being, refusing all intercourse with
society, and vowed to gloom and hypochondria. It was her strange and
mournful mania to look upon all human creatures with suspicion, nay,
The fairest linen, the whitest raiment, the most exquisite repast,
whether prepared by human hands, or furnished by divine Providence
itself, in the shape of tempting fruits, if touched by another, became
at once revolting and unpalatable. Thus, with servants to relieve her of
all cares, and Mrs. Austin as her devoted attendant, she preferred, by
the aid of her own small culinary contrivance, to prepare her fastidious
meals, to spread her own snowy couch, so often a bed of thorns to her,
to put on her own attire, regularly fumigated and purified by some
process she affected, as it came from the laundry and touched only with
gloved hands by herself, as were the books into which she occasionally
glanced for solace.
Most of her time was spent in gazing from her window, that overlooked
the bay, and dreaming of the return of one who had long since
heartlessly deserted her, leaving her dependent on those she had
injured, and from whom she bitterly and even derisively received
shelter, tender ministry, and all possible manifestations of compassion
Her mind had been partially overthrown at the time of her husband's
desertion and her dead baby's birth--events that occurred almost
conjointly; and it was the wreck of Evelyn Erie we cherished until her
slow consumption, long delayed by the balmy air of California,
culminated mercifully to herself and all around her, and removed her
from this sphere of suffering.
Whither? Alas! the impotence of that question! Are there not beings who
seem, indeed, to lack the great essential for salvation--a soul to be
saved? How far are such responsible?
Claude Bainrothe is married again, and not to Ada Greene, who, outcast
and poor, came some years since as an adventuress to California, and
signalized herself later, in the _demi-monde,_ as a leader of great
audacity, beauty, and reckless extravagance. The lady of his choice (or
heart?) was a fat baroness, about twenty years his senior, who lets
apartments, and maintains the externes of her rank in a saloon fifteen
feet square, furnished with red velveteen, and accessible by means of an
antechamber paved with tiles!
He has grown stout, drinks beer, and smokes a meerschaum, but is still
known on the principal promenade, and in the casino of the German town
in which he resides, as "the handsome American." He is said, however, to
have spells of melancholy.
The "Chevalier Bainrothan," and the "Lady Charlotte Fremont," his
step-daughter, for as such she passes, for some quaint or wicked reason
unrevealed to society, with their respectable and hideous house-keeper,
Madame Clayton, dwell under the same roof, and enjoy the privilege of
access to the _salon_ of the baroness, and a weekly game of _ecarte_ at
her _soirees_, usually profitable to the chevalier in a small way.
All this did Major Favraud, in his own merry mood, communicate to us on
the occasion of his memorable visit to San Francisco, when he remained
our delighted guest during one long delicious summer season. Of Gregory,
we never heard.
"I had hoped to hear of your marriage long before this," I said to him
one day. "Tell me why you have not wedded some fair lady before this
time. Now tell me frankly as you can."
"Simply because you did not wait for me."
"Nonsense! the truth. I want no _badinage_"
"Because, then--because I never could forget Celia--never love any one
"She was one of Swedenborg's angels. Major Favraud--no real wife of
yours. She never was married"--and I shook my head--"only united to a
being of the earth with whom she had no real affinity. Choose yours
"I believe you are half right," he said, sadly. "She never seemed to
belong to me by right--only a bird I had caught and caged, that loved me
well, yet was eager to escape."
"Such, was the state of the case, I cannot doubt; a more out and out
flesh-and-blood organization would suit you better. Your life is not
half spent; the dreary time is to come. Go back to Bellevue, and get you
a kind companion, and let children climb your knees, and surround your
hearth. You would be so much happier."
"Suggest one, then. Come, help me to a wife."
"No, no, I can make no matches; but you know Madame de St. Aube is a
widow now. You were always congenial."
"Yes, but"--with a shrug of his shoulders, worthy of a Frenchman--"_que
voulez vous_? That woman has five children already, and a plantation
mortgaged to Maginnis!"
"Maginnis again! The very name sends a chill through my bones! No, that
will never do. Some maiden lady, then--some sage person of thirty-four
"I do not fancy such. I'll tell you what! I believe I will go back and
court Bertie on some of her play-acting rounds, and mate a decent woman
of that little vagabond. Because she was disappointed once, is that a
reason? Great Heavens! this tongue of mine! Cut it out, Mrs. Wentworth,
and cast it to the seals in the bay. I came very near--"
"Betraying what I have long suspected. Major Favraud. Who _was_ that
"Don't ask me, my dear woman; I must not say another word, in honor. It
was a most unfortunate affair--a sheer misunderstanding. He loved her
all the time; I knew this, but you know her manner! He did not
understand her flippant way; her keen, unsparing, and bitter wit; her
devoted, passionate, proud, and breaking heart; and so there was a
coolness, and they parted; and what happened afterward nearly killed
her! So she left her home."
"I must not ask you, I feel, for you say you cannot tell me more in
honor, but I think I know. The man, of all the earth, I would have
chosen for her. Oh, hard is woman's fate!"
To the very last I have reserved what lay nearest my heart of hearts.
Three children have been born to us in California, and have made our
home a paradise. The two elder are sons, named severally for my father
and theirs, Reginald and Wardour.
The last is a daughter, a second Mabel, beautiful as the first, and
strangely resembling her, though of a stronger frame and more vital
nature. She is the sunshine of the house, the idol of her father and
brothers, who _all_ are mine, as well as the fair child of seven
Mrs. Austin presides, in imagination, over our nursery, but, in reality,
is only its most honored occasional visitor, her chamber being distinct,
and my own rule being absolute therein, with the aid of a docile
Ernest Wentworth, our adopted son--so-called for want of any other
name--is the standard of perfection in mind and morals, for the
imitation of the rest of the band of children.
He has gained the usual stature of young men of his age, with a slight
defect of curvature of the shoulders that does but confirm his scholarly
His face, with its magnificent brow, piercing dark eyes, pale
complexion, and clustering hair, is striking, if not handsome.
He has graduated as a student of law, and, should his health permit,
will, I cannot doubt, distinguish himself as a forensic orator.
George Gaston and Madge have promised a visit to the Vernons; but I
cannot help hoping, rather without than _for_ any good reason, that they
will not come! I love them both, yet I feel they are mismated, even if
My husband is noted among his peers for his liberal and noble-minded use
of a princely income, and his great public spirit. He unites
agricultural pursuits with his profession, and has placed, among other
managers, my old ally, Christian Garth and his family, on the ranch he
holds nearest to San Francisco.
Thence, at due seasons, seated on a wain loaded with the fruits of their
labor, the worthy pair come up to the city to trade, and never fail in
their tribute to our house.
The immigrant possessed of worth and industry, however poor; the
adventurous man, who seeks by the aid of his profession alone to
establish himself in California; the artist, the man of letters, all
meet a helping hand from Wardour Wentworth, who in his charities
observes but one principle of action, one hope of recompense, both to be
found in the teachings of philanthropy:
"As I do unto you, go you and do unto others." This is his maxim.
Our lives have been strangely happy and successful up to this hour, so
that sometimes my emotional nature, too often in extremes, trembles
beneath its burden of prosperity, and conjures up strange phantoms of
dark possibilities, that send me, tearful and depressed, to my husband's
arms, to find strength and courage in his rare and calm philosophy and
Never on his sweet serene brow have I seen a frown of discontent, or a
cloud of sourceless sorrow, such as too often come--the last especially
to mine--born of that melancholy which has its root far back in the
bosoms of my ancestors.
Such as his life is, he accepts it manfully; and in his shadow I find
protection and grow strong.
[Footnote 7: EDITOR'S NOTE.-- ... Some years after the closing of Miriam
Monfort's Retrospect, the civil war broke out in the United States, and
Pope Pius IX. was pleased to grant permission to several American nuns,
Southern ladies, whose vocation was religious, to visit their own
States, and lend what succor, spiritual and physical, they could to the
wounded and dying, on the battle-fields and in the Confederate camps.
Among these came the Sister Ursula, from the convent of the Carthusians,
known once as Lavinia, or Bertie La Vigne. She was particularly fearless
and efficient, and was killed by a cannon-ball at Shiloh while kneeling
beside a dying officer, ascertained to be her sister's husband, the
gallant George Gaston of the Seventh-Georgia. By order of Colonel
Favraud, they were buried in one grave. He best knew wherefore this was
[Footnote 8: This was previous to Bertie's visit.]
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