"The passion of the remaining parts belongs rather to Leicester and the Queen. By the way, this is quite a handsome earl, and the whole cast is decidedly strong and successful. Look, Laurance! were you an artist, would you desire a finer model for an Egeria? If Madame had been reared in Canova's studio she could not possibly have accomplished a more elegant felicitous pose. I should like her photograph at this moment."
In the grotto scene, Amy was attired in pale sea-green silk, and her streaming hair braided it with yellow light, as she shrank back from the haughty visage of the Queen.
Rapidly the end approached, courtiers and maids of honour crowded upon the stage, and thither Elizabeth dragged the unhappy wife, into the presence of the earl, crying in thunder tones: "My Lord of Leicester! knowest thou this woman?"
The craven silence of the husband, the desperate rally of the suffering wife to shield him from the impending wrath, until at last she was borne away insensible in Hunsdon's strong arms, all followed in quick succession, and Amy's ill-starred career approached its close, in the last interview with her husband.
When Cuthbert Laurance was a grey-haired man, trembling upon the brink of eternity, there came a vision in the solemn hours of night, and the form of Amy, wan as some marble statue, breathed again in his ear the last words she uttered that night.
"Take your ill-fated wife by the hand, lead her to the footstool of Elizabeth's throne; say that 'in a moment of infatuation moved by supposed beauty, of which none perhaps can now trace even the remains, I gave my hand to this poor Amy Robsart.' You will then have done justice to me, and to your own honour; and should law or power require you to part from me, I will offer no opposition, since I may then with honour hide a grieved and broken heart in those shades, from which your love withdrew me. Then—have but a little patience—and Amy's life will not long darken your brighter prospects."
The fatal hour arrived; the gorgeous pomp and ceremonial of the court-pageant had passed away, and in a dim light the treacherous balcony at Cumnor Place was visible. In the hush that pervaded the theatre, the minister heard the ticking of his watch, and Mrs. Laurance the laboured breathing of her husband.
Upon the profound silence broke the tramp of a horse's hoofs in the neighbouring courtyard, then Varney's whistle in imitation of the earl's signal when visiting the countess.
Instantly the door of her chamber swung open, and, standing a moment upon the threshold, Amy in her fleecy-white drapery wavered like a drifting cloud, then moved forward upon the balcony; the trapdoor fell, and the lovely marble face with its lustrous brown eyes sank into the darkness of death.
To men and women of intensely emotional nature, it sometimes happens that a day of keen and torturing suspense, or a night's vigil of great anguish, mars and darkens a countenance more indelibly than the lapse of several ordinary monotonous years; and as Madame Orme sat in her reception-room at one o'clock on the following afternoon, awaiting the visit of the minister, the blanched face was far sterner and prouder than when yesterday's sun rippled across it, and bluish shadows beneath the large eyes that had not closed for twenty-four hours lent them a deeper and more fateful glow.
The soft creamy folds of her Cashmere robe were relieved at the throat by a knot of lilac ribbon, and amid its loops were secured clusters of violets, that matched in hue the long spike of hyacinth which was fastened in one side of the coiled hair, twined just behind the ear, and drooped low on the snowy neck. Before her on a gilded stand was the purple pyramid of flowers she had brought from the theatre, and beside them lay several perfumed envelopes with elaborate monograms. These notes contained tributes of praise from strangers who had been fascinated by her "Amy Robsart," and begged the honour of an interview, or the favour of a "photograph taken in the silken cymar which so advantageously displayed the symmetry of her figure."
Among the latter she had recognized the handwriting of Mr. Laurance, though the signature was "Jules Duval," and her fingers had shrunk from the folds of rose paper, as though scorched by flame. Lying there on the top of the billets-doux, the elegant, graceful chirography of the "Madame Odille Orme" drew her gaze, like the loathsome fascination of a basilisk, and taking a package of notes from her pocket, she held them for a moment close to the satin envelope. Upon one the name of the popular actress; on the others—in the same peculiar beautiful characters—"Minnie Merle." She put away the latter, and a flash of scorn momentarily lighted her rigid face.
"Craven as of old! Too cowardly to boldly ask the thing his fickle fancy favours; he begs under borrowed names. Doubtless his courage wilts before his swarthy, bold-eyed Xantippe, who allows him scant latitude for flirtations with pretty actresses. To be thrown aside—trampled down—for such a creature as Abbie Ames! his coarse-featured, diamond-dowered bride! Ah! my veins run lava; when I think of her thick heavy lips, pressing that haughty perfect mouth, where mine once clung so fondly! Last night the two countenances seemed like 'as Hyperion to a Satyr!' How completely he sold his treacherous beauty to the banker's daughter, whom to-day he would willingly betray for a fairer, fresher face. Craven traitor!"
She passed her handkerchief across her lips, as if to efface some imaginary stain, and they slowly settled back into their customary stern curves.
Just then a timid tap upon the door of the reception-room was followed almost simultaneously by the entrance of Mrs. Waul, who held a card in her hand.
"The waiter has just brought this up. What answer shall he take back?"
Mrs. Orme glanced at it, sprang to her feet, and a vivid scarlet bathed her face and neck.
"Tell him—No! no—no! Madame Orme begs to decline the honour."
Then the crimson tide as suddenly ebbed, she grew ghastly in her colourlessness, and her bloodless lips writhed, as she called after the retreating figure:
"Stop! Come back,—let me think."
She walked to the window, and stood for several moments as still as the bronze Mercury on the mantel. When she turned around, her features were as fixed as if they belonged to some sculptured slab from Persepolis.
"Pray don't think me weak and fickle, but indeed, Mrs. Waul, some of my laurels gash like a crown of thorns. Tell the waiter to show this visitor up, after five minutes, and then I wish you to come back and sit with your knitting yonder, at the end of the room. And please drop the curtain there, the pink silk will make me look a trifle less ghostly after last night's work. You see I am disappointed, I expected the American minister on business, and he sends this Paris beau to make his apologies; that is all."
As the old lady disappeared, Mrs. Orme shuddered, and muttered with clenched teeth:
"All have a Gethsemane sooner or later, and mine has overtaken me before I am quite ready. God grant me some strengthening angel!"
She sank back into the arm chair, and drew the oval gilt table before her as a barrier, while some inexplicable, intuitive impulse prompted her to draw from her bosom a locket containing Regina's miniature. Touching a spring, she looked at the childish features so singularly like those she had seen the previous evening, and when Mrs. Waul returned and seated herself at the end of the room, the spring snapped, the locket lay in one hand, the minister's card in the other.
Mrs. Orme heard the sound on the stairs and along the hall—the well-remembered step. Amid the tramp of a hundred she could have singled it out, so often in bygone years had she crouched under the lilacs that overhung the gate, listening for its rapid approach, waiting to throw herself into the arms that would clasp her so fondly; to-day that unaltered step smote her ears like an echo from the tomb, and for an instant her heart stood still, and she shut her eyes; but the door swung back, and Mr. Laurance stood upon the threshold. As he advanced, she rose, and when he stood before her with outstretched hand, she ignored it, merely rested her palm on the table between them; and glancing at the card in her fingers said:
"Mr. Laurance, I believe, introduced by the American minister. A countryman of mine, he writes. As such I am pleased to see you, sir, for when abroad the mere name of American is an open sesame to American sympathy and hospitality. Pray be seated, Mr. Laurance. Pardon me, not that stiff-backed ancient contrivance of torture, which must have been invented by Eymeric. You will find that green velvet Voltaire, like its namesake, far more easy, affording ample latitude."
The sweet voice rung its silver chimes as clearly as when she trod the stage, and no shadow of the past cast its dusky wing over her proud, pale face, while she gracefully waved him to a seat, and resumed her own.
"If Madame Orme, so recently from home, yields readily to the talismanic spell of 'American' she can perhaps imagine the fascination it exerts over one who for many years has roamed far from his roof-tree and his hearthstone; but who never more proudly exulted in his nationality than last night, when as Queen of Tragedy, Madame lent new lustre to the land that claims the honour of being her birthplace."
"Thanks. Then I may infer you paid me the tribute of your presence last evening?"
They looked across the table, into each other's eyes,—hers radiant with a dangerous steely glitter, his eloquent with the intense admiration which kindled on the previous evening, now glowed more fervently from the contemplation of a beauty that to-day appeared tea-fold more irresistible. The question slightly disconcerted him.
"I had the honour of accompanying our minister, and sharing his box."
"Indeed! I have never had the pleasure of meeting him, and hoped to have seen him to-day, as he fixed this hour for the arrangement of some business details, concerning which I was advised to consult him. One really cannot duly appreciate American liberty until one has been trammelled by foreign formalities and Continental police quibbles."
An incredulous smile, ambushed in his silky moustache, was reflected in his fine eyes, as he recalled the flattering emphasis with which she had certainly singled out his face in that vast auditory, and, thoroughly appreciating his munificent inheritance of good looks, he now imagined he fully interpreted her motive in desiring to ignore the former meeting.
"Doubtless hundreds who shared with me the delight you conferred by your performance last night would be equally charmed to possess my precious privilege of expressing my unbounded admiration of your genius; but unfortunately the impression prevails that my charming countrywoman sternly interdicts all gentleman visitors, denies access even to the most ardent of her worshippers, and I deem myself the most supremely favoured of men in having triumphantly crossed into the enchanted realm of your presence. Of this flattering distinction I confess I am very proud."
It was a bold challenge, and sincerely he rued his rashness, when, raising herself haughtily, she answered in a tone that made his cheeks tingle:
"Unfortunately your countrywoman has not studied human nature so superficially as to fail to comprehend the snares and pitfalls which men's egregious vanity sometimes spring prematurely; and rumour quotes me aright, in proclaiming me a recluse when the curtain falls and the lights are extinguished. To-day I deviated from my usual custom in compliment to the representative of my country, who sends you—so his card reads—'charged with an explanation of his unavoidable absence.' As minister-extraordinary, may I venture to remind Mr. Laurance of his errand?"
Abashed by the scornful gleam in her keen wide eyes, he replied hastily:
"A telegram from Pau summoned him this morning to the bedside of a member of his family suddenly attacked with dangerous illness, and he desired me to assure you that so soon as he returned he would seize the earliest opportunity of congratulating you upon your brilliant triumph. In the interim he places at your disposal certain printed regulations, which will supply the information you desire, and which you will find in this envelope. May I hope, Madame, that the value of the contents will successfully plead the pardon of the audacious, yet sufficiently rebuked messenger?" He rose, and with a princely bow offered the packet.
Suffering her eyes to follow the motion of his elegantly formed aristocratic hand, now ungloved, one swift glance showed her that instead of the unpretending slender gold circlet she had placed on the little finger of his left hand the day of their marriage—a ring endeared to her, because it had been her mother's bridal pledge—he now wore a flashing diamond, in a broad and costly setting. Almost unconsciously her own left hand glided to the violets on her breast, beneath which, securely fastened by a strong gold chain, she wore the antique cameo ring, with its grinning death's head resting upon her heart.
Slightly inclining her head, she signed to him to place the papers on the table, and when he had resumed his sect, she asked:
"How long, Mr. Laurance, since you left America?"
"Thirteen or fourteen years ago; yet the memories of my home are fresh and fragrant as though I quitted it only yesterday."
"Then happy indeed must have been that hearthstone, whose rose-coloured reminiscences linger so tenderly around your heart, and survive the attrition of a long residence in Paris. Your repertoire of charming memories tempts me almost to the verge of covetousness. In what portion of the United States did you reside?"
"My boyhood was spent in one of the middle States, where my estate is located, but my collegiate life removed me to the north, whence I came immediately abroad. My residence in Europe confirms the belief that crossed the Atlantic with me, that in beauty, grace, and all the nameless charms that constitute the perfect, peerless, fascinating woman, my own country I pre-eminently bears the palm. Broad as is her domain, and noble her civil institutions, the crowning glory of America dwells in her lovely and gifted women."
He had never looked handsomer than at that moment, as, slightly bending his head in homage, his dangerously beautiful eyes rested with an unmistakable expression upon the faultless features before him; and watching him, a cold smile broke up the icy outline of his companion's delicate lips:
"American beauty might question the sincerity of a champion whose worship is offered only at foreign shrines, and the precious oblation of whose heart is laid on distant and strange altars."
"Ah, Madame,—neither at foreign shrines nor strange altars, but ever unwaveringly at the feet of my divine countrywomen. Is it needful that I recross the ocean to bow before the reigning muse? Is it not conceded that the brightest, loveliest planet in Parisian skies, brought all her splendour from my western home?"
"How you barb with keen regret the mortifying reflection that I, alas! cannot as an American lay claim to a moiety of your chivalric allegiance! Ill-fated Odille Orme!"
The stinging sarcasm in the liquid voice perplexed him, and the strange lambent light that seemed now and then to ray out of the brilliant eyes that had never wandered from his, sent an uncomfortable thrill over him.
"Surely the world cannot have erred in according to my own country the honour of your nationality?"
"I was born upon a French ship, in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean."
"Ah, dearest Madame! then it is no marvel that, as you have inherited the cestus of Aphrodite, your votaries bow as blindly, as helplessly, as those over whom your ancient Greek mother ruled so despotically. By divine right of birth you should reign as Odille Anadyomene."
"Madame Odille Orme has abjured the pagan aesthetics that seem to trench rather closely upon Mr. Laurance's ethics, and shed far too rosy an Orientalism over his mind and heart; and hopes he will not forget her proud boast that by divine right she wears a dearer, nobler, holier title—Odille Orme, wife and mother."
Bolder libertinism than found shelter in Mr. Laurance's perverted nature, would have cowered before the pure face that now leaned far forward, with dilated, scornful eyes which seemed to run like electric rays up and down the secret chambers of his heart.
Involuntarily he shrank back into the depths of his chair, and mutely questioned as on the previous night, "Where have I heard that voice before?"
With some difficulty he recovered himself, and said hastily:
"Will you forgive me if I tell you frankly, that ever since I saw you last night I have been tantalized by a vague yet very precious consciousness that somewhere you and I have met before? When or where, I cannot conjecture, but of one thing I am painfully certain, we can never be strangers henceforth. Some charm in your voice, in the expression of your eyes when as 'Amy Robsart' the loving woman you looked so fondly into your 'Leicester's' face, awoke dim memories that will never sleep again. Happy—enviable indeed—that Leicester who really rules the empire of your love."
Tightening the clasp of her palms which enclosed the little gold locket containing the image of their child, a wintry smile broke over her white face, lending it that mournful glimmer which fading moonlight sheds on some silent cenotaph in a cemetery.
"If my stage tricks of glance or tone, my carefully studied and practised attitudes and modulations, recall some neglected memories of your sunny past, let me hope that Mr. Laurance links me with the holy associations that cluster about a mother's or a sister's sacred features; reviving the earlier years, when he offered at the shrine of friendship, of honour, and of genius, tributes too sincere to admit the glozing varnish of fulsome, fashionable adulation, which degrades alike the lips that utter and the ears that listen. If at some period in the mysterious future, you, whom—because my countryman—I reluctantly consented to receive, should really discover a noble lovely woman before whose worth and beauty that fickle heart you call your own utterly surrenders, and whom winning as wife, and cherishing as only husbands can the darlings they worship, you were finally torn away from—by inexorable death—the only power that can part husbands and wives, then think you, Mr. Laurance, that the universe holds a grave deep enough to keep you quiet in your coffin—if vain heartless men profaned her sacred widowhood by such utterances as you presume to offer me? The stage is the arena, where in gladiatorial combat I wage my battle with the beasts of Poverty and Want: there I receive the swelling acclamations of triumph, or the pelting hisses of defeat; there before the footlights where I toil for my bread, I am a legitimate defenceless target for artistic criticism; but outside the precincts of the theatre, I hold myself as sacred from the world as if I stood in stone upon an altar behind some convent's bars, and as a lonely, sorrow-stricken mother widowed of the father of my child, bereft of a husband's tenderly jealous guardianship, I have a right to claim the profound respect, the chivalric courtesy, which every high-toned, honourable gentleman accords to worthy stainless women. Because as an actress I barter my smiles and tears for food and raiment for my fatherless child, it were not quite safe to imagine that I share the pagan tendencies which appear to have smitten some of my countrymen with moral leprosy."
The words seemed to burst forth like a mountain cataract long locked in snow, which, melting suddenly under some unseasonable fiery influence, falls in an impetuous icy torrent, bearing the startling chill of winter into flowery meadows, where tender verdure sown thick with primroses and daisies smiles peacefully in summer sunshine.
Twice the visitor half rose and essayed to speak, but that deep steady voice bore down all interruption, and as he watched her, Mr. Laurance just then would have given the fortune of the Rothschilds for the privilege of folding in his own the perfect hands that lay clasped on the marble slab.
While her extraordinary beauty moved his heart as no other woman had yet done, the stern bitterness of her rebuke appealed to the latent chivalry and slumbering nobility of his worldly soul. Looking upon his flushed handsome face, interpreting its eloquent varying expressions by the aid of glancing lights which memory snatched from long-gone years, she saw the struggle in his dual nature, and hurried on, warned by the powerful magnetism of his almost invincible eyes that the melting spell of the Past was twining its relaxing fingers about the barred gateway of her own throbbing heart.
"Trained in the easy school of latitudinarianism so fashionable nowaday on both sides of the Atlantic, doubtless Mr. Laurance deems his adopted countrywoman a nervous puritanical prude; and upon my primitive and wellnigh obsolete ideal of social decorum and propriety, upon my lofty standard of womanly delicacy and manly honour, I can patiently tolerate none of the encroachments with which I have recently been threatened. Just here, sir, permit a pertinent illustration of the impertinence that sometimes annoys me."
Lifting between the tips of her fingers the pretty peach-bloom-tinted note, whose accusing characters betrayed the hand that penned it, she continued, with an outbreak of intense and overwhelming contempt:
"Listen, if you please, to the turbid libation which some rose-lipped Paris, some silk-locked Sybarite poured out last night, after leaving the theatre. Under the pretence of adding a leaf to the chaplets, won by what he is pleased to tern 'diving dramatic genius,' this 'Jules Duval'—let me see, I would not libel an honourable name; yes, so it is signed—this Jules Duval, this brainless, heartless, soulless Narcissus, with no larger sense of honour than could find ample waltzing room on the point of a cambric needle, insolently avows his real sentiments in language that your valet might address to his favourite grisette; and closes like some ardent accepted lover, with an audacious demand for my photograph, 'to wear for ever over his fond and loyal heart!' That is fashionable homage to my genius—it is? I call it an insult to my womanhood! Nay—I am ashamed to read it! 'Twould stain my cheeks, soil my lips, dishonour your gentlemanly ears. Mr. Laurance, if ever you should become a husband, and truly love the woman you make your wife, you will perhaps comprehend my feelings, when some gay unprincipled gallant profanes the sanctity of her retirement with such unpardonable, such unmerited insolence."
She held it up between thumb and forefinger, shaking out the pink folds till the signature in violet ink flaunted before the violet eyes of its owner, then, crushing it as if it were a cobweb, she tossed it toward the window.
Turning her head, she said in an altered and elevated tone:
"Mrs. Waul, may I disturb you for a moment?"
The quiet figure, clad in sober grey, and wearing a muslin cap whose crimped ruffle enclosed in a snowy frame the benevolent wrinkled countenance, came forward, knitting in hand, spectacles on her nose, and for the first time the visitor became aware of her presence.
"Please lower the curtain yonder beside the etagere, the sun shines hot upon Mr. Laurance's brow. Then touch the bell, and order the carriage to be ready in twenty minutes."
Humiliated as he had never been before, Mr. Laurance resolved upon one desperate attempt to regain the position his vanity had rashly forfeited. Waiting until the Quaker-like duenna had retreated to her former seat, he rose and leaned across the small table, and under his rich low voice and passionately pleading eyes the actress held her breath and clutched the locket till its sharp edge sunk into her quivering flesh.
"You dismiss me as unworthy of your presence, and, acknowledging the justice of your decree, I sincerely deplore the fatuity that prompted the offence. Your rebuke was warranted by my foolish presumption, and, confessing the error into which I was betrayed by your condescending notice last night, I humbly and sorrowfully solicit your generous forgiveness. Fervid flattering phrases sorely belie my real character if, sinking me almost beneath your contempt, you deem me devoid of a high sense of honour, or of chivalric devotion to noble womanly delicacy. Madame Orme, if your unparalleled beauty, grace, and talent bewitched me into a passing folly and vain impertinence, for which indeed I blush, your stern reproof recalls me to my senses, to my better nature; and I beg that upon the unsullied word of an American gentleman, you will accept with my apology the earnest assurance that in quitting this room I honour and revere my matchless countrywoman far more than when I entered her noble presence. Fashionable freedom may have demoralized my tongue, but by the God above us, I swear it has not blackened my heart, nor deadened my perception and appreciation of all that constitutes true feminine refinement and purity. You have severely punished my presumptuous vanity, and now will you not mercifully pardon a man who, finding in you the perfect fulfilment of his prophetic dreams of lofty as well as lovely womanhood, humbly but most earnestly craves permission to reinstate himself in your regard; to attempt to win your esteem and friendship, which he will value far more highly than the adoration of any—yes, of all other women?"
He was so near her that she saw the regular quick flutter of the blue vein on his fair temples, and as the musical mastering voice so well remembered and once so fondly loved stole tenderly through the dark, lonely, dreary recesses of her desolate, aching heart, it waked for one instant a wild, maddening temptation, an intense longing to lift her arms, clasp them around his neck, lean forward upon his bosom, and be at rest.
In the weary years that followed, how bitterly she denounced and deplored the fever of implacable revenge that held her back on that memorable day! Verily for each of us a "Nemean Lion lies in wait somewhere," and a lost opportunity might have cost even Hercules that tawny skin he wore as trophy.
Mr. Laurance saw a slow dumb motion of the pale lips that breathed no sound to fill the verbal frame they mutely fashioned—"my husband;" and then with a gradual drooping of the heavily lashed lids, the eyes closed. Only until one might have leisurely counted five was he permitted to scan the wan face in its rare beautiful repose, then again her eyes pitiless as fate met his—so eager, so wistful—and she too rose, confronting him with a cold proud smile.
"I fear Mr. Laurance unduly bemoans and magnifies a mistake, which, whatever its baleful intent, has suffered in my rude inhospitable hands an 'untimely nipping in the bud,' and most ingloriously failed of consummation. After to-day the luckless incident of our acquaintance must vanish like some farthing rushlight set upon a breezy down to mark a hidden quicksand; for in my future panorama I shall keep no niche for mortifying painful days like this—and you, sir, amid the rush and glow and glitter of this bewildering French capital, will have little leisure and less inclination to recall the unflattering failure of an attempted flirtation with a pretty but most utterly heartless actress, who wrung her hands, and did high tragedy, and stormed and wept for gold! Not for perfumed pink billets-doux, nor yet for adulation and vows of deathless devotion from high-born gentlemen handsome and heartless enough to serve in Le Musee du Louvre as statues of Apollo, but for gold, Mr. Laurance, only for gold!"
"Do not inexorably exile me—do not refuse my prayer for the privilege of sometimes seeing you. Permit me to come here and teach you to believe in my——"
"Le jeu n'en vaut pas la chandelle!" she exclaimed, with a quick nervous laugh that grated grievously upon his ear.
"Madame, I implore you not to deny me the delight of an occasional interview."
A sudden pallor crept across his eager face, and he attempted to touch the fair dimpled hand which, still grasping the locket, rested upon the table.
Aware of his purpose, she haughtily shrank back, drew herself up, and folding her arms so tightly over her breast that the cameo ring pressed close upon her bounding heart, she looked down on him as from some distant height, with an intensity of quiet scorn that no language could adequately render, that bruised his heart like hail-stones.
"I deny you henceforth all opportunity of sinking yourself still deeper in my estimation, of annoying me by any future demonstrations of a style of admiration I neither desire, appreciate, nor intend to permit. If accident should ever thrust you again across my path, you will do well to forget that our minister committed the blunder of sending you here to-day. Mr. Laurance will please accept my thanks for this package of papers, which shall be returned to-morrow to the office of the American embassy. Resolved to forget the unpleasant incidents of to-day, Madame Orme is compelled to bid you good-bye."
Angry but undaunted, his eloquent eyes boldly bore up under hers, as if in mortal challenge; and he bowed, with a degree of graceful hauteur, fully equal to her own best efforts.
"Madame's commands shall be rigidly and literally obeyed, for Cuthbert Laurance is far too proud to obtrude his presence or his homage on any woman; but Mrs. Orme's interdict does not include that public realm, where she has repeatedly assured me that gold always secures admission to her smiles, and from which no earthly power can debar me. Watching you from the same spot, where last night you floated like an angelic dream of my boyhood, like a glorious revelation upon my vision and my heart, I shall defy the world to mar the happiness in store for me, so long as you remain in Paris. A distant but devoted worshipper, cherishing the memory of those thrilling glances with which 'Amy Robsart' favoured me, permit me to wish Madame Orme a pleasant ride, and good afternoon."
He bent his handsome head low before her, and left the room less like an exile than a conqueror, buoyed by an abiding fatalism, a fond faith in that magnetic influence and fascination he had hitherto successfully exerted over all, whom his wayward, fickle, fastidious fancy had chosen to enslave.
When the sound of his retreating footsteps was no longer audible, the slender white-robed figure moved unsteadily across the floor, entered the adjoining dressing-room, and locked the door.
The play was over at last, the long tensions of nerve, the iron strain on brain and heart, the steel manacles on memory, all snapped simultaneously; the actress was trampled out of sight, the weak, suffering, long-tortured woman bowed down in helpless and hopeless agony before her desecrated mouldering altar, was alone with the dust of her overturned and crumbling idol.
"My husband! O God! Thou knowest—not hers—not that woman's—but mine! all mine! My baby's father!—my Cuthbert—my own husband!"
"Oh past! past the sweet times that I remember well! Alas that such a tale my heart can tell! Ah, how I trusted him! what love was mine! How sweet to feel his arms about me twine, And my heart beat with his! What wealth of bliss To hear his praises; all to come to this,— That now I durst not look upon his face, Lest in my heart that other thing have place— That which men call hate!"
"Nonsense, Elise! She is but a child, and I beg you will not prematurely magnify her into a woman. There are so few unaffected, natural children in this generation, that it is as refreshing to contemplate our little girl's guileless purity and ingenuous simplicity, as to gaze upon cool green meadows on a sultry, parching August day. Keep her a child, let her alone."
Mr. Hargrove wiped his spectacles with his handkerchief, and replaced them on his Roman nose with the injured air of a man who, having been interrupted in some favourite study to take cognizance of an unexpected, unwelcome, and altogether unpleasant fact, majestically refuses to inspect, and dogmatically waves it aside, as if to ignore were to annihilate.
"Now, Peyton, for a sensible man (to say nothing of the astute philosopher and the erudite theologian), you certainly do indulge in the most remarkable spasms of wilful, obstinate, premeditated blindness. You need not stare so desperately at that page, for I intend to talk to you, and it is useless to try to snub either me or my facts. Regina is young, I know, not quite fourteen, but she is more precocious, more mature, than many girls are at sixteen; and you seem to forget that, having always associated with grown people, she has imbibed their ideas and caught their expressions, instead of the more juvenile forms of thought and speech usual in children who live among children. She has as far outgrown jumping-ropes as you have tops and kites, and has no more relish for fairy tales than your reverence has for base-ball, or my Bishop here for marbles. Suppose last October I had sprinkled a paper of lettuce-seed in the open border of the garden, and on the same day you had sown a lot of lettuce in the hot-beds against the brick wall, where all the sunshine falls: would you refuse your crisp, tempting, forced salad, because it had reached perfection so rapidity?"
"Mother, do you intend us to understand that Regina is very tender, and very verdant?" asked Mr. Lindsay, looking up from a grammar that lay open before him.
"I intend you, sir, to study your Hindustanee, and your Tamil, while I experiment upon the value of analogical reasoning in my discussions with your uncle. Now, Peyton, you see that child's mind has been for nearly four years in an intellectual hotbed,—sunned in the light of religion, moistened with the dew of philosophy, cultivated systematically with the prongs and hoes of regular study, of example, and precept; and, being a vigorous sprout when she was transplanted, she has made good use of her opportunities, and, behold! early mental salad, and very fine! You men theorize, ratiocinate, declaim, dogmatize about abstract propositions, and finally get your feet tangled and stumble over facts right under your noses, that women would never fail to pick up and put aside. The soul of Thales possesses you all, whereas we who sit at the cradle, and guide the little tottering feet, study the ground and sweep away the stumbling-blocks. Day after day you and Douglass discuss all kinds of scientific theories, and quote pagan authorities and infidel systems in the presence of Regina, who sits in her low chair over there in the corner of the fireplace as quiet as a white mouse, listening to every word, though 'Hans Christian Andersen' lies open on her lap, and scarcely winking those blue eyes of hers, that are as solemn as if they belonged to the Judges of Israel. If a child is raised in a carpenter's shop, with all manner of sharp, dangerous often two-edged tools scattered around in every direction, who wonders that the little fingers are prematurely gashed and scarred? You and Douglass imagine she is dreaming about the number of elves that dance on the greensward on moonlight nights, or the spangles on their lace wings; or that she is studying the latitude and longitude of the capital of the last territory which Congress elevated to the uncertain and tormenting dignity of nominal self-government, that once (vide 'obsolete civil hallucinations') inhered in an American State; or perhaps you believe the child is longing for a pot of sugar candy? Then rub your eyes, you ecclesiastical bats, and let me show you the 'outcome' of all this wise and learned chat, with which you edify one another. You know she beguiled me into giving her lessons on the organ, as well as the piano, and yesterday when I went over to the church at instruction hour, I was astonished at a prelude, which she had evidently improvised. Screened from her view, I listened till she finished playing. Of course I praised her (for really she has remarkable talent), and asked her when she began to compose, to improvise. Now what do you suppose she answered? A brigade of Philadelphia lawyers could never guess. She looked at me very steadily, and said as nearly as I can quote her words: 'I really don't know exactly when I began, but I suppose a long time ago, when I wore brown feathers, and went to sleep with my head under my wing, as all nightingales do.' Said I: 'What upon earth do you mean?' She replied: 'Why of course I mean when I was a nightingale, before I grew to be a human being. Didn't you hear Mr. Hargrove last week reading from that curious book, in which so many queer things were told about transmigration, and how the soul of a musical child came from the nightingale, the sweetest of singers? And don't you recollect Mr. Lindsay said that Plato believed it; and that Plotinus taught that people who lead pure lives and yet love music to excess, go into the bodies of melodious birds when they die? Just now when I played, I was wondering how a nightingale felt, swinging in a plum tree all white with fragrant bloom, and watching the cattle cropping buttercups and dandelions in the field. Mrs. Lindsay, if my soul is not perfectly fresh and brand new, I hope it never went into a human body before mine, because I would much lather it came straight to me from a sweet innocent bird."
"Surely, Elise, you are as usual, jesting?" exclaimed her brother.
"On the contrary, I assure you I neither magnify nor embellish. I am merely stating unvarnished facts, that you may thoroughly understand into what fertile soil your scattered grains of learning fall. I promise you, with moderate cultivation it will yield an hundred-fold."
"Mother, what did you say to her, by way of a dose of orthodoxy to antidote the metempsychosis poison?" asked Mr. Lindsay, who could not forbear laughing, at the astonished expression of his uncle's countenance.
"At first I was positively dumb, and stared at the child, very much as I daresay Mahamaia did, when her boy Arddha-Chiddi stood upon his feet and spoke five minutes after his entrance into this world of woe, or when at five months of age he sat unsupported in the air. Then I shook her, and asked if she had gone to sleep and dreamed she was a bulbul feeding on rose leaves; whereupon she looked gravely dignified, and when I proceeded to reason with her concerning the absurdity of the utterly worn-out doctrine of transmigration, how do you suppose she met me? With the information that far from being a worn-out doctrine, learned and scientific men now living were reviving it as the truth; and that whereas Christianity was only eighteen hundred years old, that metempsychosis had been believed for twenty-nine centuries, and at this day numbers more followers, by millions, than any other religion in the world. I inquired how she learned all this foolish fustian, and with an indescribable mixture of pride, pity, and triumph, as if she realized that she was throwing Mont Blanc at my head, she mentioned you two eminently evangelical guides, from whose infallible lips she had gleaned her knowledge. As for you, Douglass, I suggest you abandon Oriental studies, forego the dim hope of martyrdom in India, and begin your missionary labours at home. My dear, the Buddhist is at your own door. Now, Peyton, how do you relish the flavour of your philosophical salad?"
"I am afraid I have been culpably thoughtless in introducing to her mind various doctrines and theories which I never imagined she could comprehend, or would even ponder for a moment. Since my sight has become so impaired and feeble, I have several times called on her to read some articles which certainly are not healthful pabulum for a child, and my conversations with Douglass, relative to scientific theories, have been carried on unreservedly in her presence. I am very glad you warned me."
"And I am exceedingly sorry, if the effect of my mother's words should be to hamper and cramp the exercise of Regina's faculties. Free discussion should be dreaded only by hypocrites and fanatics, and after all, it is the best crucible for eliminating the false from the true. Does the contemplation of physical monstrosities engender a predilection or affection for deformity? Does it not rather by contrast with symmetry and perfect proportion heighten the power and charm of the latter? The beauty of truth is never so invincible as when confronted with sophistry or falsehood; just as youth and health seem doubly fair and precious, in the presence of trembling decrepitude and revolting disease."
"Really, Bishop! I thought you had passed the sophomoric stage, and it is a shameful waste of dialectic ammunition to throw your antithesis at me. According to your doctrine, America ought to buy up and import all the deformed unfortunates who are annually exposed in China, in order that our people should properly appreciate the superiority of sound limbs, and the value of the five senses; and healthy young people should throng the lazarettos and alms-houses to learn the nature of their own disadvantages. It is equally desirable that wise men like you and Peyton should accustom yourselves to the society of—well—I use polite diction, of imbeciles, of 'innocents,' in order to set a true value on learning and your own astute logic?"
"My dear little mother, you chop your logic so furiously with a broad axe, that you darken the air with a hurricane of chips and splinters. Like all ladies who attempt to argue, you rush into the reductio ad absurdum, and find it impossible to discriminate between——"
"Wisdom and conceit? Bless you, Bishop, observation has taught me all the shades and delicate gradations of that difference. We women no more mistake the latter for the former, than the gods who declined to turn cannibal when they went to dine with Tantalus, and were offered a fricassee of Pelops. Now I——
"Ceres did eat of it!" exclaimed her son, adroitly avoiding a tweak of the ear, by throwing his head back, beyond the touch of her fingers.
"A wretched pagan fable, sir, with which orthodox bishops should hold no communion. Tell me, you beardless Gamaliel, where you accumulated your knowledge relative to the education of girls? Present us a chart of your experience. You talk of hampering and cramping Regina's faculties, as if I had put her brains in a pair of stays, and daily tightened the lacers."
"I am inclined to think the usual forms of female education have precisely that effect. The fact is, mother, it appears that women in this country are expected to come the reserve magazines of piety, of religious fervour, on the certainly powerful principle that 'ignorance is the mother of devotion.' True knowledge, which springs from fearless investigation, is a far nobler and more reliable conservator of pure vital Christianity."
"Exempli gratia, Miss Martineau and Madame Dudevant, who are crowned heads among the cognoscenti? Or perhaps you would prefer a second 'La Pelouse,' governed by Miss Weber, who certainly agrees with you, 'that girls are trained too delicately to allow the mind to expand.' Illuminated and expanded by 'philosophy' and 'social progress' she and Madame Dudevant long ago literally abjured stays, and glory in the usurpation of vests, pantaloons, coats, and short hair. Be pleased to fancy my Regina, my blue-eyed snowbird, shorn of that
'Gloriole of ebon locks on calmed brows'!
I would rather see her in her coffin, shrouded in a ruffled pinafore."
"Much as I love her, so would I; but, Elise, we will anticipate no such dreadful destiny. She has a clear fine mind, is studious and ambitious, but certainly not a genius, unless it be in music; and she can be trained into a cultivated refined woman, sufficiently conversant with the sciences to comprehend their contemporaneous development, without threatening us with pedantry, or adopting a style suitable to the groves of Crotona in the days of Damo, or the abstruse mystical diction that doomed Hypatia to the mercy of the monks. After all, why scare up a blue-stockinged ogre, which may have no intention of depredating upon our peace; for to be really learned is no holiday amusement in this cumulative age, and offers little temptation to a young girl. Not long since, I found a sentence bearing upon this subject, which impressed itself upon my mind, as both strong and healthy: 'And by this you may recognize true education from false. False education is a delightful thing, and warms you, and makes you every day think more of yourself; and true education is a deadly cold thing, with a gorgon's head on her shield, and makes you every day think worse of yourself. Worse in two ways also, more is the pity: it is perpetually increasing the personal sense of ignorance, and the personal sense of fault.'"
"In that event, may I venture to wonder where and how you and Douglass stand in your own estimation? If quotations are en regle, I can match your reverence, though unfortunately my feminine memory is not like yours, a tireless beast of burden, and I must be allowed to read. Here is the book close at hand, in my stocking basket. Now, wise and gentle sirs, this is my ideal of proper, healthful, feminine education, as contrasted with pur new-fangled method of making girls either lay-figures for millinery, jewellery, and frizzled false hair, or else—far more horrible still—social hermaphrodites, who storm the posts that have been assigned to men ever since that venerable and sacred time when 'Adam delved and Eve span,' and who, forsaking holy home haunts, wage war against nature on account of the mistake made in their sex, and clamour for the 'hallowed inalienable right' to jostle and be jostled at the polls; to brawl in the market place, and to rant on the rostrum, like a bevy of bedlamities. Now when I begin to read, listen, and tell me frankly, whether when you both make up your minds to present me, one a sister, the other a daughter, you will select your wives from among quaint Evelyn's almost obsolete type, or whether you will commit your name, affections, wardrobe, larder, pantry and poultry to a strong-minded female 'scientist,' who will neglect your socks and buttons, to ascertain exactly how many Vibriones and Bacteria float in a drop of fluid, and when you come home tired and very hungry, will comfort you, and nobly atone for the injury of an ill-cooked and worse-served dinner, by regaling your weary ears with her own ingenious and brilliant interpretation and translation of AElia Laelia Crispis! Here is my old-fashioned English damsel, meek as a violet, fresh as a dewy daisy, and sweet as a bed of thyme and marjoram. 'The style and method of life are quite changed, as well as the language, since the days of our ancestors, simple and plain as they were, courting their wives for their modesty, frugality, keeping at home, good housewifery, and other economical virtues then in reputation. And when the young damsels were taught all these at home in the country at their parents' houses; the portion they brought being more in virtue than money, she being a richer match than any one who could bring a million, and nothing else to commend her. The virgins and young ladies of that golden age put their hands to the spindle, nor disdained the needle; were obsequious and helpful to their parents, instructed in the management of the family, and gave presage of making excellent wives. Their retirements were devout and religious books, their recreations in the distillery and knowledge of plants and their virtues for the comfort of their poor neighbours, and use of the family, which wholesome diet and kitchen physic preserved in health. Then things were natural, plain, and wholesome; nothing was superfluous, nothing necessary wanted. The poor were relieved bountifully, and charity was as warm as the kitchen, where the fire was perpetual.' Now, if Regina were only my child, I should with some modifications train her after this mellow old style."
"Then I am truly thankful she is not my sister! Fancy her pretty pearly fingers encrusted with gingerbread-dough; or her entrance into the library heralded by the perfume of moly, or of basil and sage, tolerable only as the familiars of a dish of sausage meat! Don't soil my dainty white dove with the dust and soot and rank odours that belong to the culinary realm."
"Your white dove? Do you propose to adopt her? A month hence when you are on your way to India, what difference can it possibly make to you, whether she is as brown as a quail or black as a crow? Before you come back, she will have been conscripted into the staid army of matrons, and transmogrified into stout Mrs. Ptolemy Thomson, or lean and careworn Mrs. Simon Smith, or worse than all, erudite Mrs. Professor Belshazzar Brown, spelling Hercules after the learned style, with the loss of the u, and the substitution of a k; or making the ghost of Ulysses tear his hair, by writing the name of his enchantress 'Kirke'!"
As Mrs. Lindsay spoke the smile vanished from her lips, and looking keenly at her son's countenance she detected the change that crossed it, the sudden glow that mounted to the edge of his hair.
Avoiding her eyes, he answered hastily: "Suppose those distinguished gentlemen you mention chance to be scholars, savans, and disposed to follow the advice of Joubert in making their matrimonial selection: 'We should choose for a wife only the woman we should choose for a friend, were she a man.' Think you mere habits of domesticity, or skill in herbalism, would arrest and fix their fancy?"
"But, Bishop, they might consider the Talmud more venerable authority than Joubert, and the Talmud says, so I am told: 'Descend a step in choosing a wife; mount a step in choosing a friend.'"
"Thank heaven! there is indeed no Salique Law in the realm of learning. Mother, I believe one of the happiest auguries of the future consists in the broadening views of education that are now held by some of our ablest thinkers. If in the morning of our religious system, St. Peter deemed it obligatory on us to be able and 'ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you,' how doubly imperative is that duty in this controversial age, when the popular formula has been adopted, 'to doubt, to inquire, to discover;' when the hammer of the geologist pounds into dust the idols of tradition, and the lenses of astronomy pierce the blue wastes of space, which in our childhood we fondly believed were the habitat of cherubim and seraphim. Now, mother, if you will only insure my ears against those pink tweezers, of which they bear stinging recollections, I should like to explain myself."
Mrs. Lindsay plunged her hands into the depths of her stocking basket, and said sententiously:
"The temple of Janus is closed."
"What is the origin of the doctrine that erudition is the sole prerogative of men, and that it proves as dangerous in a woman's hands, as phosphorus or gunpowder in those of a baby——"
"Why Eve's experience, of course. A ton of gunpowder would not have blown up the garden of Eden more effectually, than did her light touch upon an outside branch of the tree of knowledge. I should say Genesis was acceptable authority to a young minister of the Gospel."
"That is a violation of the truce, Elise. You are skirmishing with his picket line. Go on, Douglass."
"It is evidently a remnant of despotic barbarism, a fungoid growth from Oriental bondage——"
"Bishop, may I be allowed to ask if you are referring to Genesis?"
"Dear little mother, I refer to the popular fallacy, that in the same ratio that you thoroughly educate women, you unfit them for the holy duties of daughter, wife, and mother. Is there an inherent antagonism between learning and womanliness?"
"Indeed, dear, how can I tell? I am not a 'Della-Cruscan.' I only 'strain' milk into my dairy pans."
"Elise, do be quiet. You break the thread of his argument."
"Then it is entirely too brittle to hold the ponderous propositions he intends to string upon it. Proceed, my son."
"Are we to accept the unjust and humiliating dogma that the more highly we cultivate feminine intellect, the more un-feminine, unlovely, unamiable the individual certainly becomes? Is a woman sweeter, more gentle, more useful to her family and friends, because she is unlearned? Does knowledge exert an acidulating influence upon female temper, or produce an ossifying effect on female hearts? Is ignorance an inevitable concomitant of refinement and delicacy? Does the knowledge of Greek and Latin cast a blight over the flower-garden, or a mildew in the pantry and linen closet; or do the classics possess the power of curdling all the milk of human-kindness, all the streams of tender sympathy in a woman's nature, as rennet coagulates a bowl of sweet milk? Can an acquaintance with literature, art, and science so paralyze a lady's energies, that she is rendered utterly averse to and incapable of performing those domestic offices, those household duties, so pre-eminently suited to her slender, dexterous busy little fingers? Why, my own wise precious little mother is a living refutation of so grossly absurd and monstrous a dogma! Have not you boxed my ears, because, when stumbling through the 'Anabasis,' my Greek pronunciation tortured your fastidious and correct taste? Did not you tell me that you read nearly the whole of Sallust by spreading the book open on the dairy shelf while you churned, thus saving time? And did not that same sweet golden butter, made under the shadow of a Latin dictionary, win you the State Fair Premium, of that very silver cup, from which I drank my milk, as long as I wore knee-pants and round jackets? Was it not my father's fond boast that his wife's proficiency in music was equalled only by her wonderful skill in making muffins, pastry, and omelette soujflee?"
With genuine chivalric tenderness in look and tone he inclined his head; but though a tear certainly glistened in Mrs. Lindsay's bright eyes, she answered gayly:
"Am I Cerberus, to be coaxed and cheated by a well-buttered sop of flattery? Return to your mutton, reverend sir, and know that I am incorruptible, and disdain to betray my cause for your thirty pieces of potent praise."
"I think," said Mr. Hargrove, taking a bunch of cherries from the fruit-stand on the library table,—"I think the whole matter may be resolved into this; the ambitious clamours and Amazonian excesses of this epoch, are the inevitable consequence of the rigid tyranny of former ages; which sternly banished women to the numbing darkness of an intellectual night, denying them the legitimate and natural right of developing their faculties by untrammelled exercise. This belief in feminine inferiority is still expressed in Mohammedan lands, by the custom of placing a slate or tablet of marble on a woman's grave, while on that of men a pen or penholder is laid, to indicate that female hearts are mere tablets, on which man writes whatever pleases him best. In sociology, as well as physics and dynamics,—the angle of reflection is always equal to the angle of incidence,—the psychologic rebound is ever in proportion to the mental pressure; one extreme invariably impinges upon the opposite,—and when the pendulum has reached one end of the arc, it must of necessity swing back to the other. In all social revolutions the moderate and reasonable concessions which might have appeased the discontent in its incipiency are gladly tendered much too late in the contest, when the insurgents stung by injustice and conscious of their grievances, refuse all temperate compromise, and run riot. This woman's-rights and woman's-suffrage abomination is no suddenly concocted social bottle of yeast: it has been fermenting for ages, and, having finally blown out the cork, is rapidly leavening the mass of female malcontents."
"But, Uncle Peyton, you surely discriminate between a few noisy ambitious sciolists who mistake lyceum notoriety for renown, and the noble band of delicate, refined women whose brilliant attainments in the republic of letters are surpassed only by their beautiful devotion to God, family, and home? Fancy Mrs. Somerville demanding a seat in Parliament, or Miss Herschel elbowing her way to the hustings! Whose domestic record is more lovely in its pure womanliness than Hannah More's, or Miss Mitford's, or Mrs. Browning's? who wears deathless laurels more modestly than Rosa Bonheur? It seems to me, sir, that it is not so much the amount as the quality of the learning that just now ought to engage attention. I see that one of the ablest and strongest thinkers of the day has handled this matter in a masterly way, and with your permission I should like to read a passage: 'In these times the educational tree seems to me to have its roots in the air, its leaves and flowers in the ground; and I confess I should very much like to turn it upside down, so that its roots might be solidly embedded among the facts of Nature, and draw thence a sound nutriment for the foliage and fruit of literature and of art. No educational system can have a claim to permanence, unless it recognizes the truth that education has two great ends, to which everything else must be subordinated. One of these is to increase knowledge; the other is to develop the love of right and the hatred of wrong. At present, education is almost entirely devoted to the cultivation of the power of expression, and of the sense of literary beauty. The matter of having anything to say beyond a hash of other people's opinions, or of possessing any criterion of beauty, so that we may distinguish between the God-like and the devilish, is left aside as of no moment. I think I do not err in saying that if science were made the foundation of education, instead of being at most stuck on as cornice to the edifice, this state of things could not exist.' Such is the system I should like to see established in our own country."
"Provided you could reply upon the moderation of the teachers; for unless wisely and temperately inculcated, this system would soon make utter shipwreck of the noblest interests of humanity. For many years I have watched attentively the doublings of this fox, and while I yield to no man in solemn fidelity to truth, I want to be sure that what I accept as such, is not merely old error under new garbs, only a change of disguising terms. Science has its fetich, as well has superstition, and abstruse terminology does not always conceal its stolid gross proportions. The complete overthrow and annihilation of the belief in a personal, governing, prayer-answering God, is the end and aim of the gathering cohorts of science, and the sooner masking technicalities are thrown aside the better for all parties. Scientific research and analysis, nobly brave, patient, tireless, and worthy of all honour and gratitude, have manipulated, decomposed, and then integrated the universal clay, but despite microscope and telescope, chemical analysis, and vivisection, they can go no further than the whirring of the Potter's wheel, and the Potter is nowhere revealed. The moulding Creative hand and the plastic clay are still as distinct, as when the gauntlet was first flung down by proud ambitious constructive science. Animal and vegetable organisms have been analyzed, and 'the idea of adaptation developed into the conception that life itself, "is the definite combination of heterogeneous changes, both simultaneous and successive in correspondence with external co-existence and sequences."' Now to the masses who are pardonably curious concerning this problem of existence, is this result perfectly satisfactory? The 'Physical basis of life' has been driven into a corner, hunted down, seized at last, and over the heads of an eager, panting, chasing generation, is triumphantly dangled this 'Scientific Fox' brush, 'Nucleated Protoplasm, the structural unit!' But how or whence sprang the laws of 'Protein'? Hatred of certain phrases is more bitter than of the principles they express, and because theologians cling to the words God,' Creative Acts, Divine Wisdom, Providential Adaptation, scientists declare them the dicta of ignorance, superstition, and tradition, and demand that we shall bow before their superior wisdom, and substitute such terms as 'Biogenesis,' 'Abiogenesis,' and 'Xenogenesis.' But where is the economy of credulity? The problems are only crowded by a subtle veil of learned or scientific verbiage, and their solution does not induce the expenditure of faith. The change of names is not worth the strife, for the Clay and the Potter are still distinct, and He who created cosmic laws cannot reasonably or satisfactorily be confounded with, or merged in His own statutes. Creeds, theories, systems are not valuable because they are religious and traditional, or because they are scientific or philosophical, but solely on account of their truth. So, Douglass, I am not sure that your essentially scientific method will teach Regina any more real wisdom in ethics, or in AEtiolgy, than her great-grandmother possessed."
"You forget, Uncle Peyton, that in this rapidly advancing age only improved educational systems will enable men and women to appreciate the importance of its discoveries."
"My dear boy, are sudden and violent changes always synonymous with advancement? Is transition inevitably improvement? Was the social status of Paris after the revolution of 1790 an appreciable progress from the morals, religious or political, that existed in the days of Fenelon? In mechanical, agricultural, and chemical departments the march is indeed nobly on and upward, the discoveries and improvements are vast and wonderful, and for these physical material blessings we are entirely indebted to Science, toiling, heroic, and truly beneficent Science. In morals, public or private—religion, national or individual—or in civil polity, have we advanced? Has liberty of action kept pace with liberty of opinion? Are Americans as truly free to-day as they certainly were fifty years ago? In aesthetics do we surpass Phidias and Praxiteles, Raphael and Michael Angelo? Is our music more perfect than Pergolesi's or Mozart's? Can we exhibit any marvels of architecture that excel the glory of Philae, Athens, Paestum, and Agra? Are wars less bloody, or is crime less rampant? Our arrogant assumption of superiority is sometimes mournfully rebuked. For instance, one of the most eminent and popular scientists of England emphasised his views on the necessity of 'improving natural knowledge,' by ascribing the great plague of 1664, and the great fire of 1666—which in point of population and of houses, nearly swept London from the face of the globe—to ignorance and neglect of sanitary laws, and to the failure to provide suitable organizations for the suppression of conflagrations. He proudly asserted that the recurrence of such catastrophes is now prohibited by scientific arrangements 'that never allow even a street to burn down,' and that 'it is the improvement of our own natural knowledge which keeps back the plague.' I think I am warranted in the assumption that our American Fire Departments, Insurance Companies, and Boards of Health are quite as advanced, progressive, and scientific as similar associations in Great Britain; yet the week after I read his argument, an immense city lay almost in ruins; and ere many months passed, several towns and districts of our land were scourged, desolated by pestilence so fatal, so unconquerable, that the horrors of the plague were revived, and the living were scarcely able to sepulchre the dead. Now and then we have solemn admonitions of the Sisyphian tendency of the attempt so oft defeated, so persistently renewed to banish a Personal and Ruling God, and substitute the scientific fetich, 'Force and Matter,' 'Natural Law,' 'Evolution,' or 'Development.' While I desire that the basis of Regina's education shall be sufficiently broad, liberal, and comprehensive, I intend to be careful what doctrines are propounded; for unfortunately all who sympathize with the atheism of Comte, have not his noble frankness, and fail to print as he did on his title-page:
'Reorganiser sans Dieu ni roi, Par le culte systematique de l'Humanite.'"
"Oh, Peyton! what fearfully, selfishly long sentences you and Douglass inflict upon each other, and upon me! The colons and semicolons gather along the lines of conversation like an army of martyrs, and to my stupidly weary ears that last, that final period, was a most 'sweet boon'—a crowning blessing. If Regina's nightingale soul is to be vexed by such disquisitions as those from which you have been quoting, I must say it made a sorry bargain in exchanging brown feathers for pink flesh, and would have had a better time trilling madrigals in some hawthorn thicket or myrtle grove. I see plainly I might as well carry my dear old Evelyn—fragrant with mint and marjoram—back upstairs, and wrap it up in ancient camphor-scented linen, and put it away tenderly to sleep its last sleep in the venerable cedar chest, where my grandfather's huge knee-buckles, and my great-grandmother's yellow brocaded silk-dress, with its waist the length of my little finger, and the sleeves as wide as a balloon. Gentlemen, permit me one parting paragraph, before I write 'finis' on this matter of education, and 'hereafter for ever hold my peace.' Be it distinctly understood, 'by these presents,' that if that child Regina grows up a blue-stocking, or a metempsychosist, a scientist or a freedom-shrieker, a professor of physics or a practitioner of physic, judge of a court or mayor of a city, biologist, sociologist, heathen or heretic, it will be no work or wish of mine; for to each and all of these threatened, progressive abominations, I, Elise Lindsay, do hold up clean hands, and cry, Avaunt!"
"I thought my sister had long since learned that borrowing trouble necessitated the payment of usurious interest? Just now our little girl carries no gorgon's head; let her alone. The most imperatively demanded change in our system of female training, is the addition of a few years in which to work. American girls are turned out upon society when they should be beginning their apprenticeship under their mothers' eyes in all household arts and sciences; and they are wives and mothers before they are able physically, mentally, or morally to appreciate the sacred, solemn responsibilities that inhere in such positions. If our girls pursued methodically all the branches of a liberal and classical education, including domestic economy, until they were at least twenty, how much misery would be averted! how many more really elegant interesting women would be added to the charm of society, usefulness to country, happiness and sanctity of home! Had I means to bestow in such enterprises, I should like to endow some institution, and stipulate for a chair of household-arts-and-sciences-and-home-duties; and Regina should not go into general society until she had graduated therein."
"Not another word of conspiracy against my little maid's peace! Lean forward a little, Peyton, and look at her yonder, coming along the rose-walk. See how the pigeons follow her. She has been gathering raspberries, and I promised she should make all she could pick into jelly for poor old Tobitha Meggs. How pure and fair she looks in her white dress! Dear little thing! Sometimes I am wicked enough to wish she had no mother, for then she would be wholly ours, and we could keep her always. Listen, she is singing Schubert's 'Ave Maria'."
After a moment's silence Mrs. Lindsay rose, and, passing her arm around her son's neck, leaned her cheek against his head, as he sat near his uncle, and looking through the open door at the slowly approaching figure.
"Bishop, if I were an artist, I would paint her as a priestess at Ephesus, chanting a hymn to Diana; and instead of Hero and the pigeons, place brown deer and spotted fawns on mossy banks in the background."
"Pooh! What a hopeless pagan you are, Elise? If I were a sculptor I would chisel a statue of purity, and give it her countenance."
And Mr. Lindsay smiled in his mother's face, and said only for her ear:
"Do not her eyes entitle her to be called Glaukopis?"
The long sultry August day was drawing to a close, and those who had found the intense heat almost unendurable watched with delight the slow hands of the clock, whose lagging fingers finally pointed to five. The sky seemed brass, the atmosphere a blast from Tophet; and the sun, still standing at some distance above the horizon, glared mercilessly down over the panting parched: earth, as if a recent and unusually copious shower of "meteoric cosmical matter" had fallen into the solar furnace, and prompted it by increased incandescence to hotly deny the truth of Helmholtz's assertion: "The inexorable laws of mechanics show that the store of heat in the sun must be finally exhausted." Certainly to those who had fanned themselves through the tedious torture long remembered as the "hot Sunday," the science-predicted period of returning glaciers and polar snows where palms and lemons now hold sway, seemed even more distant than the epoch suggested by the speculative. In proportion to the elevation of the mercurial vein which mounted to and poisoned itself at 100 degrees, the religious, the devotional, pulse sank lower, almost to zero; consequently, although circumstances of unusual interest attracted the congregation to the church, where Mr. Lindsay intended to preach his farewell sermon, only a limited number had braved the heat to shake hands with the young minister, who ere another sunrise would have started on his long journey to the pagan East.
At the parsonage it had been a sad day, sad despite the grave serenity of Mr. Hargrove, the quiet fortitude of Mr. Lindsay, and the desperate attempts of the mother to drive back tears, compose fluttering lips, and steady the tones of her usually cheerful voice. For several days previous, Mr. Hargrove had been quite indisposed, and as his nephew would leave home at eleven p.m., the customary Sunday night service had been omitted.
As the afternoon wore away, the family trio assembled on the shaded end of the north verandah, and with intuitive delicacy, Regina shrank from intruding on the final interview which appeared so sacred.
Followed by Hero, she went through the shrubbery, and down a walk bordered with ancient cedars, which led to a small gate that opened into the adjoining churchyard.
In accordance with a custom long since fallen hopelessly into desuetude, but prevailing when the venerable church was erected, it had been placed in the centre of a spacious square, every yard of which had subsequently become hallowed as the last resting-place of families who had passed away, since the lofty spire rose like a huge golden finger pointing heavenward. An avenue of noble elms led from the iron gate to the broad stone steps; and on either side and behind the church swelled the lines of mounds, some white with marble, some green with turf, now and then a heap of mossy shells—not a few gay with flowers—all scrupulously free from weeds, and those most melancholy symptoms of neglect, which even in public cemeteries too often impress the beholder with gloomy premonitions of his own inevitable future, and recall the solemn admonition of the Talmud: "Life is a passing shadow. Is it the shadow of a tower, or of a tree? A shadow that prevails for a while? No, it is the shadow of a bird in his flight,—away flies the bird, and there remains neither bird nor shadow."
Has the profoundly religious sentiment of reverence for the domains of death lost or gained by the modern practice of municipal monopoly of the right of sepulture? Who, amid the pomp and splendour of Greedwood or Mount Auburn, where human vanity builds its own proud monument in the mausoleums of the dead,—who, in hurrying along the broad and beautiful avenues thronged with noisy groups of chattering pedestrians, and with gay equipages that render the name "City of silence" a misnomer, converting it into a quasi Festa ground, a scene for subdued Sunday Fete Champetre,—who, passing from these magnificent city cemeteries, into some primitive old-fashioned churchyard, such as that of V——, has not suddenly been almost overpowered by the contrast presented: the deep brooding solemnity, the holy hush, the pervading indwelling atmosphere of true sanctity that distinguishes the latter?
Could any other than the simple ancient churchyard of bygone days have suggested that sweetest, purest, noblest elegy in our mother tongue? Do not our hearts yearn with an intense and tender longing toward that church, at whose font we were baptized, at whose communion-table we reverently bowed, before whose altar we breathed the marriage vows, from whose silent chancel we shall one day be softly and slowly borne away to our last, long sleep? Why not lay us down to rest, where the organ that pealed at our wedding and sobbed its requiem over our senseless clay may still breathe its loving dirges across our graves in winter's leaden storms, or in fragrant amber-aired summer days? Would worldly vampires, such as political or financial schemes, track a man's footsteps down the aisle, and flap their fatal numbing pinions over his soul so securely even in the Sanctuary of the Lord, if from his family pew his eyes wandered now and then to the marble slab that lay like a benediction over the silver head of an honoured father or mother, or the silent form of a beloved wife, sister, or brother?
Is there a woman so callous, so steeped in folly, that the tinsel of Vanity Fair, the paraphernalia of fashion, or all the thousand small fiends that beleaguer the female soul, could successfully lure her imagination from holy themes, when sitting in front of the pulpit, she yet sees through the open windows where butterflies like happy souls flutter in and out the motionless chiselled cenotaph that rests like a sentinel above the pulseless heart that once enshrined her image, called her wife, and beat in changeless devotion against her own; or the little grassy billow sown thick with violets that speak to her of the blue eyes beneath them, where in dreamless slumber that needs no mother's cradling arms, no maternal lullaby, reposes the waxen form, the darling golden head of her long-lost baby? What spot so peculiarly suited for "God's acre" as that surrounding God's temple?
A residence of dearly four years' duration at the parsonage had rendered this quiet churchyard a favourite retreat with Regina, and, divesting the graves of all superstitious terrors, had awakened in her nature only a most profound and loving reverence for the precincts of the dead.
To-day, longing for some secluded spot in which to indulge the melancholy feelings that oppressed her, she instinctively sought the church, yielding unconscious homage to its hallowed and soothing influence. Passing slowly and carefully among the head-stones, she went into the church, to which she had access at all times by a key, which enabled her to enter at will and practise on the small organ that was generally used in Sabbath-school music.
Fancying that it might be cooler in the gallery, she ascended to the organ loft, and while Hero stretched himself at her feet, she sat down on one of the benches close to the open window that looked toward the mass of trees which so completely embowered the parsonage, that only one ivy-crowned chimney was visible. Low in the sky, and just opposite the tall arched window behind the pulpit, the sun burned like a baleful Cyclopean eye, striking through a mass of ruby tinted glass that had been designed to represent a lion, and other symbols of the Redeemer, who soared away above them.
Are there certain subtle electrical currents sheathed in human flesh that link us sometimes with the agitated reservoirs of electricity trembling in the bosom of yet distant clouds? Do not our own highly charged nervous batteries occasionally give the first premonition of coming thunderstorms? Long before the low angry growl that came suddenly from some lightning lair in the far south, below the sky-line, Regina anticipated the approaching war of elements, and settled herself to wait for it.
Not until to-day had she realized how much of the pleasure of her life at the parsonage was derived from the sunny presence and sympathizing companionship which she was now about to lose, certainly for many years, probably for ever.
Although Mr. Lindsay's age doubled her own, he had entered so fully into her fancies, humoured so patiently her girlish caprices, with such tireless interest aided her in her studies, that she seemed to forget his seniority, and treated him with the quiet affectionate freedom which she would have indulged toward a young brother. Next to the memory of her mother, she probably gave him the warmest place in her heart, but she was a remarkably reserved, composed, and undemonstrative child, by no means addicted to caresses, and only in moments of deep feeling betrayed into an impulsive passionate gesture, or a burst of emotion.
Sincerely attached to the entire household, who had won not merely her earnest gratitude, but profound respect and admiration, she was conscious of a peculiar clinging tenderness for Mr. Lindsay, which rendered the prospect of his departure the keenest trial that had hitherto overtaken her; and when she thought of the immense distance that must soon divide them, the laborious nature of the engagement that would detain him perhaps a lifetime in the far East, her own dim uncertain future looked dark and dreary. The blazing sun went down at last, the fiery radiance of the pulpit window faded, and the birds that frequented the quiet sheltered enclosure sought their perches in the thickest foliage where they were wont to sleep. But there was no abatement of the heat. The air was sulphurous, and its inspiration was about as refreshing as a draught from Phlegethon; while the distant occasional growl had grown into a frequent thunderous muttering that deepened with every repetition, and already began to shake the windows in its reverberations. Two ladies in deep mourning, who had been hovering like black spectres around a granite sarcophagus, where they deposited and arranged the customary Sabbath arkja of white flowers, concluded their loving tribute to the sleeper, and left the churchyard; and save the continual challenge of the thunder drawing nearer, the perfect stillness ominous and dread, which always precedes a violent storm, seemed brooding in fearful augury above the home of the dead.
With one foot resting on Hero's neck, Regina sat leaning against the window facing, very pale, but bravely fighting this her first great battle with sorrow. Her face was eloquent with mute suffering, and her eyes were full of shadows that left no room for tears.
"Going away to India, perhaps for ever!" was the burden of this woe that blanched even her lovely coral lips until their curves were lost in the pallor of her rounded cheek and dimpled chin. "Going away to India;" like some fateful rune presaging dire disaster, it seemed traced in characters of flame across the glowing sky, and over the stony monuments that studded the necropolis.
Suddenly Hero lifted his head, sniffed the air, and rose, and almost simultaneously Regina heard the sound of footsteps on the gravel outside, and the low utterances of a voice which she recognized as Hannah's.
"I never told you before, because I was afraid that in the end you would cheat me out of my share of the profit. But I have watched and waited, and bided my time as long as I intend to, and I am too old to work as I have done."
"It seems to me a queer thing you have hid it so long, so many years, when you might have turned it into gold. The old General ought to pay well for the paper. Let's see it."
The response was in a man's voice, harsh and discordant, and, leaning slightly forward, Regina saw the old servant from the parsonage standing immediately beneath the window, fanning herself with her white apron, and earnestly conversing in subdued tones with a middle-aged man, whose flushed and rather bloated face still retained traces of having once been, though in a coarse style, handsome. In length of limb, and compact muscular development he appeared an athlete, a very son of Anak; but habitual dissipation had set its brutalizing stamp upon his countenance, and the expression of the inflamed eyes and sensuous mouth was sinister and forbidding, as if a career of vice had left the stain of irremediable ruin on his swarthy face.
As he concluded his remark and stretched out his hand, Hannah laughed scornfully.
"Do you take me for a fool? Who else would travel around with a match and a loaded fuse in the same pocket? I haven't it with me; it is too valuable to be carried about. The care of that scrap of paper has tormented me all these years, worse than the tomb devils did the swine that ran down into the sea to cool off; and if I have changed its hiding-place once, I have twenty times. If the old General doesn't pay well for it, I shall gnaw off my fingers, on account of the sin it has cost me. I was an honest woman and could have faced the world until that night—so many years ago; and since then I have carried a load on my soul that makes me—even Hannah Hinton, who never flinched before man or woman or beast—a coward, a quaking coward! Sin stabs courage, lets it ooze out, as a knife does blood. Don't bully me, Peleg! I won't bear it. Jeer me if you dare."
"Never fear, Aunt Hannah. I have no mind to do theatre on a small scale, and show you Satan reproving sin. After all, what is your bit of petit larceny, your thin slice of theft, in comparison with my black work? But really I don't in the least begrudge my sins, if only I might have my revenge,—if I could only get Minnie in my power."
"Bah! don't sicken me with any more of the Minnie dose! I hate the name as I do small-pox or cholera. A pretty life you have led, dancing after her, as an outright fool might after the pewter-bells on a baby's rattle!"
"You women can't understand how a man feels when his love changes to hate; and yet you ought to know all about it, for when you do turn upon one another you never let go. Aunt Hannah, I loved her better than everything else upon the broad earth; I would have kissed the dust where she walked; I always loved her, and she was fond of me, until that college dandy came between us, and made a fool of her, a villain of me. When she forsook me, and followed him off, I swore I would be revenged. There is tiger blood in me, and when I am thoroughly stirred up I never cool. It is a long, long time since I lost her trail—soon after the child was born, and eight years ago I almost gave up and went to Cuba; but if I can only find the track, I will follow it till I hunt her down. I never received your letters, or I would have hurried back. Where is Minnie now?"