"I will do my duty, no matter how revolting."
"Thank God! When will you go?"
"If at all, at once."
"Evelyn, when you come home, will you not let me see you, now and then, and win my way back to my old place in your dear heart? Oh! my pale, peerless darling, do not deny me this."
"Home? I have no home. My heart is grayer than my head,—and your old niche is full of dust, and skeletons, and murdered hopes. Let me see you no more in this world; and perhaps in the Everlasting Rest I shall forget my hideous past, which your face recalls."
"Oh, my poor bruised darling! do not banish me," wailed the governess, endeavoring to fold her arms about the queenly form, which silently but effectually held her back.
"At least, dear Evelyn, let me kiss you once more, in token that you cherish no bitterness against me."
"Good-by, Edith. I hold you innocent of my injuries. May God help you, and call us both speedily to our dreamless sleep under moss and marble."
She bent down, and with firm, icy lips, lightly touched the forehead of the governess, and walked away, unheeding the burst of tears with which the frigid caress was welcomed.
"And I think, in the lives of most women and men, There's a moment when all would go smooth and even, If only the dead could find out when To come back, and be forgiven."
"Madam, are you aware that you breathe an infected atmosphere?—that this building is assigned to small-pox cases? Pray do not cross the threshold."
The superintendent of the hospital laid aside his pipe, and advanced to meet the stranger whose knock had startled him from a post-prandial doze.
"I am not afraid of contagion, and came to see the patient who was brought here yesterday from No. 139 Elm Street."
"Have you a permit to visit here?"
"Yes; you will find it on this paper, given me by the proper authorities."
"What is the name of the person you desire to see?"
The superintendent opened a book that lay on the table beside him, and drew his finger up and down the page.
"Ah, yes,—I have it now. Maurice Carlyle, Ward 3,—cot No. 7. Madam, may I ask,—"
"No, sir; I have no inclination to answer idle questions. Will you show me the way, or shall I find it?"
"Certainly, I will conduct you; but I was about to remark that a death has just occurred in Ward No. 3, and I am under the impression that it was the Elm Street case. Madam, you look faint; shall I bring you a glass of water?"
"No. Show me the body of the dead."
"This way, if you please."
He walked down a dim, low-vaulted passage, and paused at the entrance of a room lined with cots, where the nurse was slowly passing from patient to patient.
"Nurse, show this lady to cot No. 7."
Swiftly the tall figure of the visitor glided down the room, and placing her hand on the arm of the nurse, she said huskily,—
"Where is the man who has just died? Quick! do not keep me in suspense."
"There, to the right; shall I uncover the face?"
Under the blue check coverlet that was spread smoothly over the cot, the stiff outlines of a human form were clearly defined; and, when the nurse stooped, the stranger put out one arm and held him back, while her whole frame trembled violently.
"Stop! be good enough to leave me."
The attendant withdrew a few yards, and curiously watched the queenly woman, who stood motionless, with her fingers tightly interlaced.
She was dressed in a gray suit of some shining fabric, and a long gossamer veil of the same hue hung over her features. After a few seconds she swept back the veil, and, as she bent forward, a stray sunbeam dipped through the closed shutters, and flashed across a white horror-stricken face, crowned with clustering braids of silver hair.
She shut her eyes an instant, grasped the coverlet, and drew it down; then caught her breath, and looked at the dead.
It was a young, boyish face, horribly swollen and distorted, and coarse red locks were matted around his brow and temples.
"Thank God, Maurice Carlyle still lives."
She involuntarily raised her hands towards heaven, and the expression of dread melted from her countenance.
Slowly and reverently she re-covered the corpse, and approached the nurse.
"I am searching for my husband. Which cot is No. 7?"
"That on your left,—next to the dead."
Mrs. Carlyle turned, and gazed at the bloated crimson mass of disease that writhed on the narrow bed, and a long shudder crept over her, as she endeavored to discover in that loathsome hideous visage some familiar feature—some trace of the manly beauty that once rendered it so fascinating.
The swollen blood-shot eyes stared vacantly at the ceiling, and, while delirious muttering fell upon the ears of the visitor, she saw that his cheeks were somewhat lacerated, and his hands, partially confined, were tearing at the inflamed flesh.
She shivered with horror, and a groan broke from her pitying heart.
"What an awful retribution! My God, have mercy upon him! He is sufficiently punished."
Drawing her perfumed lace handkerchief from her pocket, she leaned over and wiped away the bloody foam that oozed across his lips, and lifting his hot head turned it sufficiently to expose the right ear, where a large mole was hidden by the thick hair.
"Maurice Carlyle! But what a fearful wreck?"
She covered her eyes with her hand, and moaned.
The nurse came nearer, and said hesitatingly,—
"Madam, surely he is not your husband? His clothes are almost in tatters, while yours are—ahem!—"
"Spare me all comments on the comparison. Can I obtain a comfortable, quiet room, in this building, and have him removed to it at once? You hesitate? I will compensate you liberally, will pay almost any price for an apartment where he can at least have silence and seclusion."
"We can accommodate you, but of course if the patient is carried from this ward to a private room, we shall be compelled to charge extra."
"Charge what you choose, only arrange the matter as promptly as possible. How soon can you make the change?"
"In twenty minutes, madam."
The nurse rang for an assistant, to whom the necessary instructions were given, and in the interim Mrs. Carlyle leaned against the cot, and brushed away the flies that buzzed about the pitiable victims.
Two men carried the sufferer up a flight of steps, and ere long he was transferred to a large comfortable bed in an airy, well-furnished apartment.
The removal had not been completed more than an hour, when the surgeon made his evening round, and followed the patient to his new quarters.
He paused at sight of the elegantly dressed woman who sat beside the bed, and said, stammeringly,—
"I am informed that No. 7 is your husband, and that you have taken charge of his case, and intend to nurse him. Have you had small-pox?"
"Madam, you run a fearful risk."
"I fully appreciate the hazard, and am prepared to incur it. Do you regard this case as hopeless?"
"Not altogether, though the probabilities are that it will terminate fatally."
"I have had too little experience to warrant my undertaking the management of the case, and, while I intend to remain here, I wish you to engage the services of some trustworthy nurse who understands the treatment of this disease. Can you recommend such a person?"
"Yes, madam; I can send you a man in whom I have entire confidence, and fortunately he is not at present employed. If you desire it, I will see him within the next hour, and give him all requisite instructions about the patient."
"Promptness in this matter will greatly oblige me, and I wish to spare no expense in contributing to the comfort and restoration of the sufferer. As I am utterly unknown to you, I prefer to place in your hands a sufficient amount to defray all incidental expenditures."
She laid a roll of bills upon the table, and as Dr. Clingman counted them, she added,—
"It is possible that I may be attacked by this disease, though I have been repeatedly vaccinated; and if I should die, please recollect that you will find in my purse a memorandum of the disposition I wish made of my body,—also the address of my agent and banker in New York City."
With mingled curiosity and admiration the physician looked at the pale, handsome woman, who spoke of death as coldly and unconcernedly as of to-morrow's sun, or next month's moon.
"Madam, allow me to ask if you have no friends in this city,—no relatives nearer than New York?"
"None, sir. It is my wish that our conversation should be confined to the symptoms and treatment of your patient."
Dr. Clingman bowed, and, after writing minute instructions upon a sheet of paper left on the mantelpiece, took his departure.
Securing the door on the inside, Mrs. Carlyle threw aside her bonnet and wrappings, and came back to the sufferer on the bed.
Eight years of reckless excess and dissipation had obliterated every vestige of manly beauty from features that disease now rendered loathsome, and the curling hair and long beard were unkempt and grizzled.
Leaning against the pillow, the lonely woman bent over to scrutinize the distorted, burning face, and softly took into her cool palms one hot and swollen hand, which in other days she had admiringly stroked, and tenderly pressed against her cheek and lips. How totally unlike that countenance, which, handsome as Apollyon, had looked down at her on her bridal day, and fondly whispered—"my wife."
Memory mercilessly broke open sealed chambers in that wretched woman's heart, and out of one leaped a wail that made her tremble and moan,—"Oh, Evelyn, my wife, forgive your husband."
Slowly compassion began to bridge the dark gulf of separation and hate, and as the wife gazed at the writhing form of her husband, her stony face softened, and tears gathered in the large, mournful eyes.
"Ah, Maurice! This world has proved a huge cheat to you and to me,—and well-nigh cost us all peace in the next one. My husband, yet my bitterest foe,—my first, my last, my only love! If I could recall one throb of the old affection, one atom of the old worshipping tenderness and devotion,—but it has withered; my heart is scorched and ashen,—and neither love nor hope haunts its desolate ruins. Poor, polluted, down-trodden idol! Maurice—Maurice—my husband, I have come. Evelyn, your wife, forgives you, as she hopes for pardon at the hands of her God."
Kneeling beside the bed, with her snowy fingers clasped around his, she bowed her head, and humbly prayed for his soul, and for her own; and, when the petition ended, that peace which this world can never give,—which had so long been exiled, fluttered back and brooded once more in her storm-riven heart.
Softly she lifted and smoothed the long tangled hair that clung to his forehead, and tears dripped upon his scarlet face, as she said; brokenly,—
"Till death us do part! Poor Maurice! Deserted and despised by your former parasites. After long years, my vows bring me back in the hour of your need. God grant you life, to redeem your past,—to save your sinful soul from eternal ruin."
Suns rose and set, weary days and solemn nights of vigil succeeded each other, and tirelessly the wife and hired nurse watched the progress of the dreadful disease. Occasionally Mr. Carlyle talked deliriously, and more than once the name of Edith Dexter hung on his lips, and was coupled with tenderer terms than were ever bestowed on the woman who wore his own. Bending over his pillow, the pale watcher heard and noted all, and a sad pitying smile curved her mouth now and then, as she realized that the one holy love of this man's life triumphed over the wreck of fortune, health, and hope, and kept its hold upon the heart that long years before had sold itself to Lucifer.
Sleeplessly, faithfully, she went to and fro in that darkened room, whose atmosphere was tainted by infection, and at last she found her reward. The crisis was safely passed, and she was assured the patient would recover.
The apartment was so dimly lighted that Mr. Carlyle took little notice of his attendants, but one afternoon when the nurse had gone to procure some refreshments, the sick man turned on his pillow, and looked earnestly at the woman who was engaged in writing at a table near the bed.
Mrs. Carlyle rose and approached him.
"Are you Mrs. Smith,—my landlady?"
"No, sir. I am merely your nurse."
"My nurse? What is the matter with me?"
"Small-pox,—but the danger is now over."
"Small-pox! Where did I catch it? Am I still in Elm Street?"
"No, sir; you are in the hospital."
Shading his inflamed eyes with his hand, he mused for some moments, and she saw a perplexed and sorrowful expression cross his features.
"Is there any danger of my dying?"
"That danger is past."
"What is your name?"
"Stand a little closer to me. I find I am almost blind. Mrs. Gerome? Your voice is strangely like one that I have not heard for many years,—and it carries me back,—back—to—" He sighed, and pressed his fingers over his eyes.
After a few seconds, he said,—
"Do give me some water. I am as parched as Dives."
She lifted his head and put the glass to his lips,—and while he drank, his eyes searched her face, and lingered admiringly on her beautiful hand.
"Are you a regular nurse at this hospital?"
"I am engaged for your case."
"I see no pock-marks on your skin; it is as smooth as ivory. Shall I escape as lightly?"
"It is impossible to tell. Here comes your dinner."
He caught her arm, and gazed earnestly at her.
"Is your hair really so white, or is it merely an illusion of my inflamed eyes?"
"There is not a dark hair in my head; it is as white as snow."
While the nurse prepared the food and arranged it on the table, Mrs. Carlyle hastily collected several articles scattered about the apartment, and softly opened the door.
Standing there a moment, she looked back at the figure comfortably elevated on pillows, and a long sigh of relief crossed her lips.
"Thank God! I have done my duty, and now he needs me no longer. Next time I see your face, Maurice Carlyle, I hope it will be at the last bar, in the final judgment; and then may the Lord have mercy upon us both."
The words were breathed inaudibly, and, closing the door gently, she hurried down the steps and in the direction of a small room which Dr. Clingman had converted into an office.
As she entered, he looked up and pushed back his spectacles.
"What can I do for you?"
"A little thing, which will cost you no trouble, but will greatly oblige me. Doctor, I have found you a kind and sympathizing gentleman, and am grateful for the delicate consideration with which you have treated me. Mr. Carlyle is beyond danger, and I shall leave him in your care. When he is sufficiently strong to be removed, I desire that you will give him this letter, which contains a check payable to his order. There, examine it, and be so good as to write me a receipt."
Silently he complied, and when she had re-enclosed the check and sealed the envelope she placed it in his hand.
"Dr. Clingman, is there any other place to which small-pox cases can be carried? To-day I have discovered some symptoms of the disease in my own system, and I feel assured I shall be ill before this time to-morrow."
"My dear madam, why not remain here?"
"Because I do not wish to be discovered by Mr. Carlyle, and forced to meet him again. I prefer to suffer, and, if need be, die, alone and unknown."
"If you will trust yourself to me, and to a faithful female nurse whom I can secure, I promise you, upon my honor as a gentleman, that I will allow no one else to see you, living or dead. My dear madam, I beg you to reconsider, and remain where I can watch over, and perhaps preserve your life. I dreaded this. You are feverish now."
Wearily she swept her hand across her forehead, and a dreary smile flitted over her wan features.
"My life is a worthless, melancholy thing, useless to others, and a crushing burden to me; and I might as well lay it down here as elsewhere. I accept your promise, Dr. Clingman, and hope you will obtain a room in the quiet and secluded portion of the building. If I should be so fortunate as to die, do not forget the memorandum in this purse. I leave my body in your care, my soul in the hands of Him who alone can give it rest."
"The burden of my days is hard to bear, But God knows best; And I have prayed,—but vain has been my prayer,— For rest—for rest."
"Miss Dexter, have you succeeded in seeing Mrs. Gerome since her return?"
"No, sir; she obstinately refuses to admit me, though I have called twice at the house. Yesterday I received a letter in answer to several that I have addressed to her, all of which she returned unopened. Since you have already learned so much of our melancholy history, why should I hesitate to acquaint you with the contents of her letter? You know the object of her journey north, and I will read you the result."
The governess drew a letter from her pocket, and Dr. Grey leaned his face on his hand and listened.
"SOLITUDE, May 10th, 18—.
"Edith,—No lingering vestige of affection, no remorseful tenderness, prompted that mission from which I have recently returned, and only the savage scourgings of implacable duty could have driven me, like a galley-slave, to my hated task. The victim of a horrible and disfiguring disease which so completely changed his countenance that his own mother would scarcely have recognized him,—and the tenant of a charity hospital in the town of ——, I found that man who has proved the Upas of your life and of mine. During his delirium I watched and nursed him—not lovingly (how could I?) but faithfully, kindly, pityingly. When all danger was safely passed, and his clouded intellect began to clear itself, I left him in careful hands, and provided an ample amount for his comfortable maintenance in coming years. I spared him the humiliation of recognizing in his nurse his injured and despised wife; and, as night after night I watched beside the pitiable wreck of a once handsome, fascinating, and idolized man, I fully and freely forgave Maurice Carlyle all the wrongs that so completely stranded my life. To-day he is well, and probably happy, while he finds himself possessed of means by which to gratify his extravagant tastes; but how long his naturally fine constitution can hold at bay the legion of ills that hunt like hungry wolves along the track of reckless dissipation, God only knows.
"For some natures it is exceedingly difficult to forgive,—to forget, impossible; and while my husband's abject wretchedness and degradation disarmed the hate that has for so many years rankled in my heart, I could never again look willingly upon his face. Edith, you and I have nothing in common but miserable memories, which, I beg you to believe, are sufficiently vivid, without the torturing adjunct of your countenance; therefore, pardon me if I decline to receive your visits, and return the letters that are quite as welcome and cheering to my eyes as the little shoes and garments of the long-buried dead to the mother, who would fain look no more upon the harrowing relics. I do not wish to be harsh, but I must be honest, and our intercourse can never be renewed in this world.
"In bygone days, when I loved you so fondly and trusted you so fully, it was my intention to share my fortune with you; and, since I find that you have not forfeited my confidence in the purity of your purposes, such is still my wish. I enclose a draft on my banker, which I hope you will deem sufficient to enable you to abandon the arduous profession in which you have worn out your life. If I can feel assured that I have been instrumental in contributing to the peace and ease of the years that may yet be in store for you, it will serve as one honeyed drop to sweeten the dregs of the cup of woe I am draining. Edith, do not refuse the only aid I can offer you in your loneliness; and accept the earnest assurance that I shall be grateful for the privilege of promoting your comfort. Affection and trust I have not, and a few paltry thousands are all I am now able to bestow. By the love you once professed, and in the name of that compassion you should feel for me, I beg of you, despise not the gift; and let the consciousness that I have saved you from toil and fatigue quiet the soul and ease the heart of a lonely woman, who has shaken hands with every earthly hope. I have done my duty, my conscience is calm and contented, and I sit wearily on the stormy shore of time, waiting for the tide that will drift into eternity the desolate, proud soul of
Tears rolled over the governess' cheeks, and, refolding the letter, she said, sorrowfully,—
"My poor, heart-broken Vashti! She has resumed the name which old Elsie gave her because it was her mother's; and how mournfully appropriate it has proved. I could be happy if permitted to spend the residue of my days with her; but she decrees otherwise, and I have no alternative but submission to her imperious will."
Dr. Grey did not lift his face where the shadow of a great, voiceless grief hung heavily, and his low tone indexed deep and painful emotion, when he answered,—
"I sincerely deplore her unfortunate decision, for isolation only augments the ills from which she suffers. Many months have elapsed since I saw her last, but Robert Maclean told me to-day that she was sadly changed in appearance, and seemed in feeble health. She did not tell you that she had been dangerously ill with varioloid, contracted while nursing her husband. Although not in the least marked or disfigured, the attack must have seriously impaired her constitution, if all that Robert tells me be true. Since her return, one month ago, she has not left her room."
"Dr. Grey, exert your influence in my behalf, and prevail upon her to admit me."
"Miss Dexter, you ascribe to me powers of persuasion which, unfortunately, I do not possess; and Mrs. Carlyle's decree is beyond the reach of human agency. To the few who are earnestly interested in her welfare, there remains but one avenue of aid and comfort,—faithful, fervent prayer."
"Perhaps you are not aware of the exalted estimate she places on your character, nor of the value she attaches to your opinions. Of all living beings, she told me she reverenced and trusted you most; and you, at least, would not be denied access to her presence."
She could not see the tremor on his usually firm lips, nor the pallor that overspread his face, and when he spoke his grave voice did not betray the tumult in his aching heart.
"I am no longer a visitor at 'Solitude,' and shall not see its mistress unless she requires my professional aid. While I am very deeply interested in her happiness, I could never consent to intrude upon her seclusion."
"I know my days are numbered, and after a little while I shall sleep well under the ancient cedars that shade the head-stones of my father and mother; but I could die more cheerfully, more joyfully, if Evelyn would only be comforted, and accept some human friendship."
"For some weeks you have seemed so much better that I hoped warm weather would quite relieve and invigorate you. Spend next winter in Cuba or Mexico, and it will probably add many months, possibly years, to your life."
She smiled, and shook her head.
"This beautiful springtime has temporarily baffled the disease, but for me there can be no restoration. Day by day I feel the ebbing of strength and energy, and the approach of my deliverer, death; but I realize also, what the Centaur uttered to Melampus, 'I decline unto my last days calm as the setting of the constellations; but I feel myself perishing and passing quickly away, like a snow-wreath floating on the stream.'"
As he looked at the thin, pure face where May sunshine streamed warm and bright, and marked the perfect peace that brooded over the changed features, Dr. Grey was reminded of the lines that might have been written for her, so fully were they suited to her case,—
"I saw that one who lost her love in pain, Who trod on thorns, who drank the loathsome cup; The lost in night, in day was found again; The fallen was lifted up. They stood together in the blessed noon, They sang together through the length of days; Each loving face bent sunwards, like a moon New-lit with love and praise."
"My friend, the shadows are passing swiftly from your life, and, in the mild radiance of its close, you can well afford to forget the storms that clouded its dawn."
"Forget? No, Dr. Grey, I neither endeavor nor desire to forget the sorrows that first taught me the emptiness of earthly things, the futility of human schemes,—that snapped the frail reed of flesh to which I clung, and gave me, instead, the blessed support, the immovable arm of an everlasting God. Ah! that woman was deeply versed in the heart-lore of her own sex, who wrote,—
'When I remember something which I had, But which is gone, and I must do without,
* * * * *
When I remember something promised me, But which I never had, nor can have now, Because the promiser we no more see In countries that accord with mortal vow; When I remember this, I mourn,—but yet My happier days are not the days when I forget.'"
"If Mrs. Carlyle possessed a tithe of your faith and philosophy, how serene, how tranquilly useful her future years might prove."
"In God's own good time her trials will be sanctified to her eternal peace, and she will one day glide from grief to glory, for she can claim the promise of our Lord, 'The pure in heart shall see God.' No purer heart than Vashti Carlyle's throbs this side of the throne where seraphim and cherubim hover."
In the brief silence that succeeded, the governess observed the unusually grave and melancholy expression of her companion's countenance, and asked, timidly,—
"Has anything occurred recently to distress or annoy you? You look depressed."
"I feel inexpressibly anxious about Salome, concerning whose fate I can learn nothing that is comforting. In reply to my letter, urging him to make every effort to ascertain her locality and condition, Professor V—— writes, that he is now a confirmed invalid, confined to his room, and unable to conduct the search for his missing pupil. She left Palermo on a small vessel bound for Monaco, and her farewell note stated that all attempts to discover her retreat would prove futile, as she was resolved to preserve her incognito, and wished her friends in America to remain in ignorance of her mode of life. Professor V—— surmises that she is in Paris, but gives no good reason for the conjecture, except that she possibly sought the best medical advice for the treatment of her throat and recovery of her voice. His last letter, received yesterday, informed me that one of Salome's most devoted admirers, a Bostonian of immense wealth, was so deeply grieved by her inexplicable disappearance that he was diligently searching for her in Leghorn and Monaco. She left Palermo alone, and with a comparatively empty purse."
"Dr. Grey, are you aware of the suspicions which Muriel has long entertained with reference to Mr. Granville's admiration of Salome, and the efforts of the latter to encourage his attentions?"
"I have very cogent reasons for believing that however amenable to censure Mr. Granville doubtless is, Muriel's distrust of Salome is totally unjust. If she were capable of the despicable course my ward is disposed to impute to her, I should cease to feel any interest in her career or fate; but I cherish the conviction that she would scorn to be guilty of conduct so ignoble. Her defects of character I shall neither deny nor attempt to palliate, but I trust her true womanly heart as I trust my own manly honor; and a stern sense of justice to the absent constrains me to vindicate her from Muriel's hasty and unfounded aspersions. So strong is my faith in Salome's conscientiousness, so earnest my friendship for her, that since the receipt of Professor V——'s letter I have determined to go immediately to Europe, and if possible discover her retreat. My sister's adopted child must not and shall not suffer and struggle among strangers, while I live to aid and protect her."
Miss Dexter rose and laid her thin, feverish hand on his arm, while embarrassment made her voice tremble slightly,—
"I am rejoiced to learn your decision, and God grant you speedy success in your quest. Do not deem me presumptuous or impertinent if, prompted by a sincere desire to see you happy, I venture to say, that he who lightly values the pure, tender, devoted love of such a woman as Salome Owen,—tramples on treasures that would make his life affluent and blessed—that neither gold can purchase nor royalty compel. Under your guidance, moulded by your influence, she would become a noble woman,—of whom any man might justly be proud."
Fearful that she had already incurred his displeasure, and unwilling to meet his eye, she turned quickly and made her escape through the open door.
In the bright glow of that lovely spring day, the calm face of Ulpian Grey seemed scarcely older than on the afternoon when he came to make the farm his home; and though paler, and ciphered over by the leaden finger of anxiety, it indexed little of the long, fierce strife, that conscience had waged with heart.
Lighter and more impulsive natures expend themselves in spasmodic and violent ebullitions, but the great deep of this man's serene character had never stirred, until the one mighty love of his life had lashed it into a tempest that tossed his hopes like sea-froth, and finally engulfed the only rosy dream of wedded happiness that had ever flushed his quiet, solitary, sedate existence.
Having kept his heart in holy subjection to the law of Christ, he did not quail and surrender when the great temptation rose, bearing the banner of insurrection; but sternly and dauntlessly fronted the shock, and kept inviolate the citadel, garrisoned by an invincible and consecrated will.
The yearning tenderness of his strong, tranquil soul, had enfolded Mrs. Carlyle, drawing her more and more into the penetralia of his affection; but from the hour in which he learned her history he had torn away the clinging tendrils of love,—had endeavored to expel her from his heart, and to stifle its wail for the lost idol.
Week after week, month after month, he had driven every day within sight of the blue smoke that curled above the trees at "Solitude," but never even for an instant checked his horse to gaze longingly towards the Eden whence he had voluntarily exiled himself.
There were hours when his heart ached for the sight of that white face he had loved so madly, and the sound of the mournfully sweet voice,—and his hand trembled at the recollection of the soft, cold, snowy fingers, that once thrilled his palms; but he treated these utterances of his heart as mercilessly as the hunter who cheers his dogs in the chase where the death-cry of the victim rings above bark and halloo.
No wall of division, no sea of separation, would have proved so effectual, so insurmountable, as his own firm resolve that his earthly path should never cross that of one whom God's statutes had set apart until death annulled the decree. In this torturing ordeal he was strengthened by the conviction that he alone suffered for his folly,—that Mrs. Carlyle was a stranger to feelings that robbed him of sleep, and clouded his days,—that the heaving tide of his devoted love had broken against her frozen heart as idly as the surges of the sea that die in foam upon the dreary, mysterious ruins of the Serapeon at Pozzuoli.
In the silent watches of the night, as he pondered the brief, beautiful vision that had so completely fascinated him, he reverently thanked God that the woman he loved had never reciprocated his affection, and was not sitting in the ashes of desolation, mourning his absence. Striving to interest himself more and more in Stanley and Jessie, who had become inordinately fond of him, his thoughts continually reverted to Salome, and that subtle sympathy which springs from the "fellow-being," that makes us "wondrous kind" to those whose pangs are fierce as ours, began faintly and shyly, but surely, to assert itself. A shadowy, intangible self-reproach brooded like a phantom over his generous heart, when, amidst the uncertainty that seemed to overhang the orphan's fate, he remembered the numberless manifestations of almost idolatrous affection which he had coldly repulsed.
In the earnest interest that day by day deepened in the absent girl, there was no pitiable vanity, no inflated self-love, but a stern realization of the anguish and humiliation that must now be her portion, and a magnanimous eagerness to endeavor to cheer a heart whose severest woes had sprung from his indifference.
More than a year had elapsed, and no letter had ever reached him,—not even a message in her two brief epistles to Stanley, and Dr. Grey missed the bright, perverse element that no longer thwarted him at every turn.
He longed to see the proud, girlish face, with its flashing eyes, and red lips, and the haughty toss of the large, handsome head; and the angry tones of her voice would have been welcome sounds in the house where she had so long tyrannized. To-day, as Ulpian Grey sat in his own little sitting-room, his eyes were fixed on a copy of Rembrandt's Nicholas Tulp, which hung over the mantelpiece; but the mysteries of anatomy no longer riveted his attention, and his thoughts were busy with memories of a fond though wayward girl, whom his indifference had driven to foreign lands,—to unknown and fearful perils.
Through the windows stole the breath of Salome's violets, and the sweet, spicy odor of the Belgian honeysuckle that she had planted and twined around the mossy columns that supported the gallery; and with a sigh he closed his eyes, shut out the anatomy of flesh, and began the dissection of emotions.
Could Salome's radiant face brighten his home, and win his heart from its devouring regret? Would it be possible for him to give her the place whence he had ejected Mrs. Carlyle? Could he ever persuade himself to call that fair, passionate young thing, that capricious, obstinate, maliciously perverse girl,—his wife?
Involuntarily he frowned, for while pity pleaded for the refugee from home and happiness, the man's honest nature scouted all shams, and he acknowledged to himself that he could never feel the need of her lips or hands,—could never insult her womanhood, or degrade his own nature, by folding to his heart one whose touch possessed no magnetism, whose presence exerted no spell over his home.
Salome, his friend, his adopted sister, he wished to discover, to claim, and restore to the household; but Salome, his wife,—was a monstrous imaginary incubus that appalled and repelled him.
The difficulties that presented themselves at the outset of his search would have discouraged a less resolute temperament, but it was part of his wise philosophy, that—
"We overstate the ills of life. We walk upon The shadow of hills across a level thrown, And pant like climbers."
As a pitying older brother, he thought of Salome's many foibles,—of her noble intentions and ignoble executions,—of her few feeble triumphs, her numerous egregious failures in the line of duty; and loving Christian charity pleaded eloquently for her, whispering to his generous soul, "We know the ships that come with streaming pennons into the immortal ports; but we know little of the ships that have taken fire on the way thither,—that have gone down at sea."
What pure friendship could accomplish he would not withhold, and life at the farm was not so attractive now that he felt regret at the prospect of temporary absence.
The disappointment that had so rudely smitten to the earth the one precious hope born of his acquaintance with "Solitude," had no power to embitter his nature,—to drape the world in drab, or to shroud the future with gloom; and though his noble face was sadder and paler, Christian faith and resignation rang blessed chimes of peace in heart and soul, and made his life a hallowed labor of love for the needy and grief-stricken. To-day, as he sat alone at the south window, he could overlook the fields of "Grassmere," where the rich promise of golden harvest "filled in all beauty and fulness the emerald cup of the hills," and the waving grain rippled in light and shade like the billows of some distant sunset sea. Basking in the balmy sunshine, and contemplating his approaching departure for Europe, a sudden longing seized him to look once more on the face of Vashti Carlyle, before he bade farewell to his home.
She was in feeble health, and might not survive his absence, and, moreover, what harm could result from one final visit to "Solitude,"—from a few parting words to its desolate mistress? She had sent a message through Robert, that she would be glad to see Dr. Grey whenever he could find leisure to call, and now hungry heart and soul cried out savagely,—
"Why not? Why not?"
His heavy brows knitted a little, and his mouth grew rigid as iron, but after some moments the lips relaxed, and with a sad, patient smile, he repeated those stirring words of Richter to Herman,—"Suffer like a man the Alp-pressure of fate. Trust yourself upon the broad, shining wings of your faith, and make them bear you over the Dead Sea, so as not to fall spiritually dead within."
"No, no, Ulpian Grey,—keep yourself 'unspotted from the world.' Strangle that one temptation which borrows the garments of an angel of light and mercy, and dogs you, sleeping and waking. I will see her no more till death snaps her fetters, and I can meet her in the presence of God, who alone can know what separation costs me. May He grant her strength to bear her lonely lot, and give me grace to be patient even unto the end, bringing no reproach on the sacred faith I profess."
It was the final struggle between love and duty, and though the vanquished heart wailed piteously, exultant conscience, like Jupiter of old, triumphantly applauded, "Evan, evoe!"
"Wanted!—Information of Salome Owen, who will confer a favor on her friends, and secure a handsome legacy by calling at No. — ——."
"Dr. Grey, for six months this advertisement has appeared every morning in two of the most popular journals in Paris, and as it has elicited no clew to her whereabouts, I am reluctantly compelled to believe that she is no longer in France."
Mr. Granville refolded the newspaper, and busied himself in filling and lighting his meerschaum.
"By whom was that notice inserted?"
"By M. de Baillu, the agent and banker of Mr. Minge of Boston, who was warmly and sincerely attached to your protegee, and earnestly endeavored to marry her. When she left Palermo, Mr. Minge came to this city and solicited my aid in discovering her retreat."
"Pardon me, but why did he apply to you?"
"Simply because he knew that I was an old acquaintance, and he had seen me with her, when she first came from America."
"How did you ascertain her presence in Paris?"
"Accidentally; one night, at the opera, whither she accompanied Professor V——, I recognized her, and of course made myself known. To what shall I ascribe the honor of this rigid cross-questioning?"
"To reasons which I shall very freely give you. But first, permit me to beg that you will resume your narrative at the point where I interrupted you. I wish to learn all that can be told concerning Mr. Minge."
"He was an elderly man of ordinary appearance, but extraordinary fortune, and seemed completely fascinated by Salome's beauty. He offered a large reward to the police for any clew that would enable him to discover her, and finally found the physician whom she had consulted with reference to some disease of the throat, which occasioned the loss of her voice. He had prescribed for her several times, but knew nothing of her lodging-place, as she always called at his office; and finally, without assigning any reason, her visits ceased. Mr. Minge redoubled his exertions, and at last found her in one of the hospitals connected with a convent. The Sisters of Charity informed him that one bleak day when the rain was falling drearily, they chanced to see a woman stagger and drop on the pavement before their door, and, hurrying to her assistance, discovered that she had swooned from exhaustion. A bundle of unfinished needlework was hidden under her shawl, and they soon ascertained that she was delirious from some low typhus fever that had utterly prostrated her. For several weeks she was dangerously ill, and was just able to sit up when Mr. Minge discovered her. He told me that it was distressing and painful beyond expression to witness her humiliation, her wounded pride, her defiant rejection of his renewed offer of marriage. One day he took his sister Constance and a minister of the gospel to the hospital, and implored Salome to become his wife, then and there. He said she wept bitterly, and thanked him, thanked his sister also, but solemnly assured him she could never marry any one,—she would sooner starve in the—"
Dr. Grey raised his hand, signalling for silence, and for some moments he leaned his forehead against the chair directly in front of him.
Mr. Granville cleared his throat several times, and loosened his neck-tie, which seemed to impede his breathing.
"Shall I go on? There is little more to tell."
"If you please, Granville."
"Mr. Minge would not abandon the hope of finally persuading her to accept his hand, but next day when he called to inquire about her health, and to request the sisters to watch her movements, and prevent her escape, he was shocked to learn that she had disappeared the previous night, leaving a few lines written in pencil on a handkerchief, in which she had wrapped her superb suit of hair. They were addressed to the Sisters of Charity, and briefly expressed her gratitude for their kindness in providing for her wants, while she assured them that as soon as possible she would return and compensate them for their services in her behalf. Meantime, knowing the high price of hair, she had carefully cut off her own, which was unusually long and thick, and tendered it in part payment. When she was taken into the building, her nurse found concealed in her dress a very elegant watch, bearing her name in diamond letters, and she requested that the sisters would hold it in pawn, until she was able to redeem it. During her illness, it had been locked up, and they supposed she left it, fearing that an application for it would arouse suspicions of her intended flight. Mr. Minge bought the hair and handkerchief, and, after a liberal remuneration for their care of the invalid, he took charge of the watch, and left his address to be given her when she called for her property. That her mind had become seriously impaired, there can be little doubt, since nothing but insanity can explain her refusal to accept one of the handsomest estates in America. Unfortunately, a few days subsequent to her departure from the hospital, Mr. Minge was taken very violently ill with pneumonia, and died. Conscious of his condition, he prepared a codicil to his will, and bequeathed to Salome twenty-five thousand dollars, and an elegant house and lot in New York City. He exacted from his sister a solemn promise that she would leave no means untried to ferret out the wanderer, to whom he was so devotedly attached; and, should all efforts fail, at the expiration of five years the legacy should revert to the hospital which had sheltered her in the hour of her destitution. The watch he left with his sister Constance; the hair, he ordered buried with him. Three months have elapsed, and no tidings have reached Miss Minge, who remains in Paris for the purpose of complying with her brother's dying request."
"My poor, perverse Salome! To what desperate extremities has she been reduced by her unfortunate wilfulness. Gerard, will you tell me frankly your own conjecture concerning her fate?"
"If alive, I believe she has left Europe."
"Upon what do you base your supposition?"
"Mr. Minge was convinced that her attachment to some one in America was the insurmountable barrier to his success as a suitor; and, if so, she probably returned to her native land. Dr. Grey, I will speak candidly to you of a matter which has doubtless given you some disquiet. Muriel informs me that you have no confidence in the sincerity of my attachment to her, and that upon that fact is founded your refusal to allow the consummation of our engagement, so long as she continues your ward. I confess I am not free from censure, but, while I have acted weakly, I am not devoid of principle. Sir, I was strangely and powerfully attracted to Salome Owen, and she exerted a species of fascination over me which I scarcely endeavored to resist. In an evil hour, infatuated by her face and her marvellous voice, I was wild enough to offer her my hand, and resolved to ask Muriel to release me. Dr. Grey, even at my own expense, I wish to exonerate Salome, who never for an instant, by word or look, encouraged my madness. She repulsed my advances, refused every attention, and when I rashly uttered words, which, I admit, were treasonable to Muriel, she almost overwhelmed me with her fiery contempt and indignation,—threatening to acquaint Muriel with my inconstancy, and appealing to my honor as a gentleman to keep inviolate my betrothal vows. Dr. Grey, if my heart temporarily wandered from its allegiance to your ward, it was not Salome's fault, for in every respect her conduct towards me was that of a noble, unselfish woman, who scorned to gratify her vanity at the expense of another's happiness. She shamed me out of my folly, and her stern honesty and nobility saved me from a brief and humiliating career of dishonorable duplicity. Whether living or dead, I owe this tribute to the pure character of Salome Owen."
"Thank Heaven! I had faith in her. I believed her too generous to stoop to a flirtation with the lover of her friend; and, deplorable as was your own weakness, I am rejoiced, Gerard, to find that you have conquered it. Tell Muriel all that you have confided to me, and in her hands we will leave the decision."
"Do you intend to prosecute the search which has proved so fruitless?"
"I do. She has not returned to America,—she is here somewhere; and, living or dead, I must and will find her."
Dr. Grey seemed lost in perplexing thought for some time, then drew a sheet of paper before him, and wrote, "Ulpian Grey wishes to see Salome Owen, in order to communicate some facts which will induce her return to her family; and he hopes she will call immediately at No. Rue ——."
"Gerard, please be so good as to have this inserted in all the leading journals in the city; and give me the address of Mr. Minge's agent."
At the expiration of a month, spent in the most diligent yet unsuccessful efforts to obtain some information of the wanderer, Dr. Grey began to feel discouraged,—to yield to melancholy forebodings that an untimely death had ended her struggles and suffering.
Once, while pacing the walks in the Champs-Elysees, he caught a glimpse of a face that recalled Salome's, and started eagerly forward; but it proved that of a Parisian bonne, who was romping with her juvenile charge.
Again, one afternoon, as he came out of the Church of St. Sulpice, his heart bounded at sight of a woman who leaned against the railing, and watched the play of the fountain. When he approached her and peered eagerly into her countenance, blue eyes and yellow curls mocked his hopes. One morning, while he walked slowly along the Rue du Faubourg St. Honore, his attention was attracted by the glitter of pretty baubles in the Maison de la Pensee, and he entered the establishment to purchase something for Jessie.
While waiting for his parcel, a woman came out of a rear apartment and passed into the street, and, almost snatching his package from the counter, he followed.
A few yards in advance was a graceful but thin figure, clad in a violet-colored muslin, with a rather dingy silk scarf wound around her shoulders. A straw hat, with a wreath of faded pink roses, drooped over her face, and streamers of black lace hung behind, while over the whole she had thrown a thin gray veil.
Dr. Grey had not seen a feature, but the pose of the shoulders, the haughty poise of the head, the quick, nervous, elastic step, and, above all, the peculiar, free, childish swinging of the left arm, made his despondent heart throb with renewed hope.
Keeping sufficiently near not to lose sight of her, he walked on and on, down cross streets, up narrow alleys, towards a quarter of the city with which he was unacquainted. The woman never looked back, rarely turned her head, even to glance at those who passed her, and only once she paused before a flower-stall, and seemed to price a bunch of carnations, which she smelled, laid down again, and then hurried on.
Dr. Grey quickly paid for the cluster, and hastened after her.
In turning a corner, she dropped a small parcel that she had carried under her scarf, and as she stooped to pick it up, her veil floated off. She caught it ere it reached the ground, and when she raised her hands to spread it over her hat, the loose open sleeves of her dress slipped back, and there, on the left arm, was a long, zigzag scar, like a serpentine bracelet.
With great difficulty Dr. Grey stifled a cry of joy, and waited until she had gained some yards in advance.
The woman was so absorbed in reverie that she did not notice the steady tramp of her pursuer, but as the number of persons on the street gradually diminished, he prudently fell back, fearing lest her suspicion should be excited.
At a sudden bend in the crooked alley which she rapidly threaded, he lost sight of her, and, running a few yards, he turned the angle just in time to see the flutter of her dress and scarf, as she disappeared through a postern, that opened in a crumbling brick wall.
Above the gate a battered tin sign swung in the wind, and dim letters, almost effaced by elemental warfare, announced, "Adele Aubin, Blanchisseuse."
Dr. Grey passed through the postern, and found himself in a narrow, dark court, near a tall, dingy, dilapidated house, where a girl ten years of age sat playing with two ragged, untidy children.
It was a dreary, comfortless, uninviting place, and a greenish slime overspread the lower portions of the wall, and coated the uneven pavement.
From the girl, who chatted with genuine French volubility and freedom, Dr. Grey learned that her father was an attache of a barber-shop, and her mother a washer and renovater of laces and embroideries. The latter was absent, and, in answer to his inquiries, the child informed him that an upper room in this cheerless building was occupied by a young female lodger, who held no intercourse with its other inmates.
Placing a five-franc piece in her hand, the visitor asked the name of the lodger, but the girl replied that she was known to them only as "La Dentelliere," and lived quite alone in the right-hand room at the top of the third flight of stairs.
The parley had already occupied twenty minutes, when Dr. Grey cut it short by mounting the narrow, winding steps. The atmosphere was close, and redolent of the fumes of dishes not so popular in America as in France, and he saw that the different doors of this old tenement were rented to lodgers who cooked, ate, and slept in the same apartment. At the top of the last dim flight of steps, Dr. Grey paused, almost out of breath; and found himself on a narrow landing-place, fronting two attic rooms. The one on the right was closed, but as he softly took the bolt in his hand and turned it, there floated through the key-hole the low subdued sound of a sweet voice, humming "Infelice."
It was not the deep, rich, melting voice, that had arrested his drive when first he heard it on the beach, but a plaintive, thrilling echo, full of pathos, yet lacking power; like the notes of birds when moulting-season ends, and the warblers essay their old strains. Cautiously he opened the door wide enough to permit him to observe what passed within.
The room was large, low, and irregularly shaped, with neither fire-place nor stove, and only one dormer window opening to the south, and upon a wide waste of tiled roofs and smoking chimneys. The floor was bare, except a strip of faded carpet stretched in front of a small single bedstead; and the additional furniture consisted of two chairs, a tall table where hung a mirror, and a washstand that held beside bowl and pitcher a candlestick and china cup. On the table were several books, a plate and knife, and a partially opened package disclosed a loaf of bread, some cheese, and an apple.
In front of the window a piece of plank had been rudely fastened, and here stood two wooden boxes containing a few violets, mignonette, and one very luxuriant rose-geranium.
The faded blue cambric curtain was twisted into a knot, and as it was now nearly noon, the sun shone in and made a patch of gold on the stained and dusky floor.
On the bed lay the straw hat, garlanded with roses that had lost their primitive tints, and before the window in a low chair sat the lonely lodger.
On her knees rested a cushion, across which was stretched a parchment pattern bristling with pins, and with bobbins she was swiftly knitting a piece of gossamer lace, by throwing the fine threads around the pins.
Over the floor floated her delicate lilac dress, and the sleeves were looped back to escape the forest of pins.
Dr. Grey had only a three-quarter view of the face that bent over the cushion, and though it was sadly altered in every lineament,—was whiter and thinner than he had ever seen it,—yet it was impossible to mistake the emaciated features of Salome Owen.
The large, handsome head, had been shorn of its crown of glossy braids that once encircled it like a jet tiara, and the short locks clustered with childlike grace and beauty around the gleaming white brow and temples.
There was not a vestige of color in the whilom scarlet mouth, whose thin lines were now scarcely perceptible; and, in the finer oval of her cheeks, and along the polished chin, the purplish veins showed their delicate tracery. The hands were waxen and almost transparent, and the figure was wasted beyond the boundaries of symmetry.
In the knot of ribbon that fastened her narrow linen collar, she had arranged a sprig of mignonette, that now dropped upon the cushion as she bent over it. She paused, brushed it off, and for a few seconds her beautiful hazel eyes were fixed on the blue sky that bordered her window.
The whole expression of her countenance had changed, and the passionate defiance of other days had given place to a sad, patient hopelessness, touching indeed, when seen on her proud features. Slowly she threw her bobbins, and a fragment of "Infelice" seemed to drift across her trembling lips, that showed some lines of bitterness in their time-chiselling.
As Dr. Grey watched her, tears which he could not restrain trickled down his face, and he was starting forward, when she said, as if communing with her own desolate soul,—
"I wonder if I am growing superstitious. Last night I dreamed incessantly of Jessie and home, and to-day I cannot help thinking that something has happened there. Home! When people no longer have a home, how hard it is to forget that blessed home which sheltered them in the early years. Homeless! that is the dreariest word that human misery ever conjectured or human language clothed. Never mind, Salome Owen, when God snatched your voice from you, He became responsible; and your claims are like the ravens and sparrows, and He must provide. After all, it matters little where we are housed here in the clay, and Hobbs was astute when he selected for the epitaph on his tombstone, 'This is the true philosopher's stone.' Home! Ah, if I sadly missed my heart's home, here in the flesh, I shall surely find it up yonder in the blessed land of blue."
A tear glided down her cheek, glistened an instant on her chin, and fell on her pattern. She brushed it away, and smiled sorrowfully,—
"It is ill-omened to sprinkle bridal lace with tears. Some day this fine web will droop around a bride's white shoulders and after a time it may serve to deck the cold limbs of some dead child. If I could only have my shroud now, I would not make lace a desideratum; serge or sackcloth would be welcome. Patience,—
... 'What if the bread Be bitter in thine inn, and thou unshod To meet the flints? At least it may be said, Because the way is short, I thank thee, God!'"
She partially rose in her chair, and took from the table a volume of poems. After some search, she found the desired passage, and, rocking herself to and fro, she read it aloud in a low, measured tone,—
"O dreary life! we cry, 'O dreary life!' And still the generations of the birds Sing through our sighing, and the flocks and herds Serenely live, while we are keeping strife With heaven's true purpose in us, as a knife Against which we may struggle! Ocean girds Unslackened the dry land, savannah-swards Unweary sweep,—hills watch unworn; and rife Meek leaves drop yearly from the forest-trees, To show above the unwasted stars that pass In their old glory. 'O thou God of old, Grant me some smaller grace than comes to these! But even so much patience, as a blade of grass Grows by, contented through the heat and cold.'"
The book slipped from her fingers and fell upon the floor, and with a sob the girl bowed her head in her hands.
Quickly the intruder glided unseen into the room, and stood at the back of her chair.
He knew she was praying, and almost breathlessly waited several minutes.
At last she raised her face, and while tears trembled on her lashes, she said meekly,—
"I ought not to complain and repine. I will be patient and trust God; for I can afford to suffer all through time, provided I may spend eternity with Christ and Dr. Grey."
"Oh, Salome! Thank God, we shall be separated neither in time nor in eternity! Dear wanderer, come back to your brother!"
He stepped before her, and involuntarily held out his arms.
She neither screamed nor fainted, but sprang to her feet, and a rapture that beggars all description irradiated her worn, weary, pallid face.
"Is it really you? Oh! a thousand times I have dreamed that I saw you,—stood by you; but when I tried to touch you, there was nothing but empty air! Oh, Dr. Grey!—my Dr. Grey! Am I only dreaming, here in the sunshine, or is it you bodily? Did you care for me a little? Did you come to find me?"
She grasped his arm, swept her hands up and down his sleeve, and then he saw her reel, and shut her eyes, and shudder.
"My poor child, I came to Paris solely to hunt for my wayward Salome, and, thank God! I have found her."
He put his arm around her, and placed her head against his shoulder.
Ah, how his generous heart ached, as he noted the hungry delight with which her splendid eyes lingered on his features, and the convulsive tenacity with which she clung to him, trembling with excess of joy that brought back carmine to her wasted lips and carnation bloom to her blanched cheeks.
He heard her whispering, and knew it was a prayer of thanksgiving for the blessing of his presence.
But very soon a change came over her sparkling, happy face, like an inky cloud across a noon sky, and he felt a shiver stealing through her form.
"Let me go! You said once, that when I came to Europe to enter on my professional career, you wished never to touch my hands again,—you would consider them polluted."
"Dear Salome, I recant all those harsh, unjust words, which were uttered when I was not fully aware of the latent strength of your character. Since then, I have learned much from Professor V——, and from Gerard Granville, that assures me my noble friend is all I could desire her,—that she has grandly conquered her faults, and is worthy of the admiration, the perfect confidence, the earnest affection, which her adopted brother offers her. Your pure, true heart makes pure hands, and as such I reverently salute them."
He took her hands, raised and kissed them respectfully, tenderly.
She hid her burning face on his bosom, and there was a short pause.
"Salome, sit down and let me talk to you of home,—your home. Have you no questions to ask about your pet sister and brother?"
He attempted to release himself, but she clung to him, and clasping her arms around his neck, said in a strained, husky tone,—
"Dr. Grey, did you bring your—your wife to Paris?"
"I have no wife."
She uttered a thrilling cry of delight, threw her head back, and gazed steadily into his clear, calm, blue eyes.
"Oh, sir, they told me you had married Mrs. Gerome."
He placed her in the chair, and kneeling down beside her, took her quivering face in his palms and touched her forehead softly with his lips.
"The only woman I ever wished to make my wife is bound for life to a worthless husband. Salome, I loved her before I knew this fact; and, since I learned (soon after your departure) that she was separated from the man whom she had wedded, I have not seen her, although she still resides at 'Solitude.' Salome, I shall never marry, and I ask you now to come back to Jessie and Stanley, who will soon require your care and guidance, for it is my intention to return to the position in the U.S. naval service, which only Janet's feeble health induced me to resign. God bless you, dear child! I wish you were indeed my own sister, for I am growing very proud of my brave, honest friend,—my patient lace-weaver."
The girl's head sank lower and lower until it touched her knees, and sobs rendered her words scarcely audible.
"If you deem me worthy to be called your friend, it is because of your example, your influence. Oh, Dr. Grey,—but for you,—but for my hope of meeting you in the kingdom of Christ, I shudder to think what I might have been! Under all circumstances I have been guided by what I imagined would have been your wishes,—your advice; and my reward is rich indeed! Your confidence, your approbation! Earth holds no recompense half so precious."
"Thank God! my prayers have been abundantly answered, my highest hopes of your future fully realized. Henceforth, let us with renewed energy labor faithfully in the vast, whitening fields of Him who declares, 'The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.'"
"O human soul! as long as thou canst so Set up a mark of everlasting light, Above the howling senses' ebb and flow, To cheer thee and to right thee if thou roam, Not with lost toil thou laborest through the night, Thou makest the heaven thou hopest indeed thy home."
"SAD CASE OF MANIA A POTU."
"Watchman McDonough reports that late last night, he picked up, on the sidewalk, the insensible body of Maurice Carlyle, who showed some signs of returning animation after his removal to Station House No. ——. A physician was called in, and every effort made to save the unfortunate victim of intemperance; but medical skill was inadequate to arrest the work of many years of excess, and before daylight the wretched man expired in dreadful convulsions. Coroner Boutwell held an inquest on the body, and the verdict rendered was 'Death from mania a potu.' Mr. Carlyle was well known in this city, where for many years he was an ornament to society, and a general favorite in the fashionable and mercantile circle in which he moved. Of numbers who were once the recipients of his bounty and hospitality, none offered succor in the hour of adversity, and among all his former friends none were found to cheer or pity in the last ordeal to which flesh is subjected. The melancholy fate of Maurice Carlyle furnishes another illustration of the mournful truth that the wages of intemperance are destitution and desertion."
Such was the startling announcement, which, under the head of "Police Report," Dr. Grey read and re-read in a prominent New York paper that had accidentally remained for some days unopened on his desk, and was dated nearly a month previous. Locking the door of his office, he sat down to collect his bewildered thoughts, and to quiet the tumult in his throbbing heart.
During the two years that had drearily worn away since his last interview with Mrs. Carlyle, he had sternly forbidden his mind to dwell on its brief dream of happiness, and by a life of unusually active benevolence endeavored to forget the one episode which alone had power to disquiet and sadden him.
He had philosophically schooled himself to the calm, unmurmuring acceptance of his lonely destiny, and looked forward to a life solitary yet not unhappy, although uncheered by the love and companionship which every man indulges the instinctive hope will sooner or later crown his existence.
Now heart and conscience, so long at deadly feud, suddenly signalled a truce, clasped hands, embraced cordially. How radiant the world looked,—with what wondrous glory the future had in the twinkling of an eye robed itself. The woman he had loved was stainless and free, and how could she long resist the pleadings of his famished heart?
He would win her from cynicism and isolation, would melt her frozen nature in the genial atmosphere of his pure and constant affection, and interweave her aimless, sombre life with the busy, silvery web of his own.
After forty years, God would grant him home, and wife, and hearthstone peace.
What a flush and sparkle stole to this grave man's olive cheek, and calm, deep blue eyes!
Ah! how hungrily he longed for the touch of her hand, the sight of her face; and, snatching his hat, he put the paper in his pocket, and hurried towards "Solitude."
In the holy hush of that hazy autumnal afternoon, nature—Magna Mater,—
"The altar-curtains of whose hills Are sunset's purple air," "Who dips in the dim light of setting suns The spacious skirts of that vast robe of hers That widens ever in the wondrous west,"
seemed slumbering and dreaming away the day.
The forests were gaudy in their painted shrouds of scarlet and yellow leaves, and long, feathery flakes of purple bloom nodded over crimson berries, emerald mosses, and golden-hearted asters.
Only a few weeks previous, Dr. Grey had driven along that road, and, while the echo of harvest hymns rang on the hay-scented air, had asked himself how men and women could become so completely absorbed in temporal things, ignoring the solemn and indisputable fact of the brevity of human life and the restricted dominion of man,—
"Whose part in all the pomp that fills The circuit of the summer hills Is, that his grave is green."
But to-day all sober-hued reflections were exorcised by the rapturous Jubilate that hope was singing through the sunlit chambers of his happy heart; and when he entered the grounds of "Solitude" they seemed bathed in that soft glamour, that witching "light that never was on sea or land."
As he sprang from his buggy and opened the little gate leading into the parterre, Robert came slowly forward, bearing a basket filled with a portion of the crimson apples that flushed the orchard, just beyond the low hedge.
"You could not have chosen a better time to come, Dr. Grey; and if I were allowed to have my way you would have been here last night. Were you sent for at last, or was it a lucky chance that brought you?"
"Merely an accident, as I received no summons. Robert, how is your mistress?"
"God only knows, sir; I am sure I never can tell how she really is. She has not seemed well since she took that journey to the North, and for two weeks past she appears to have been slipping down by inches into her grave. She neither eats nor sleeps, and for the last three nights has not lain down,—so old Ruth, the housekeeper, tells me. Yesterday I begged my mistress to let me go for you, but she smiled that awful freezing smile that strikes to the very marrow of my bones, worse than December sleet,—and raised her finger so: and said, 'At your peril, Robert. Mind your orchard, man, and I will take care of myself. I want neither doctors nor nurses, and only desire that you, and Ruth, and Anna, will attend to your respective duties and let me be quiet. All will soon be well with me.' I killed a partridge, had it nicely broiled, and carried it to her; and she thanked me, and made a pretence of eating the wing, just to please me; but when the waiter was taken away to the kitchen, I found all the bird on the plate. This morning, just before daylight, I heard her playing a wild, mournful thing on the piano, that sounded like a dirge or a wail; and Ruth says when she went into the parlor to open the blinds, she found her praying, and thinks she was on her knees for an hour. Please God! sometimes I wish she was in heaven with my mother, for she will never see any peace in this life."
"What seems to be the disease?"
"You should have come and told me this long ago."
"And pray to what purpose, Dr. Grey? She vowed she would allow no human being to cross her threshold, except the servants, and I would sooner undertake to curl a steel, or make ringlets out of a pair of tongs, than bend her will when once she takes a stand. Humph! My mistress is no willow wand, and is about as easily moved as the church-steeple, or the stone-tower of the lighthouse."
"Has she recently received letters that contained tidings which excited or distressed her?"
"A letter came last week, but I know nothing of its contents. You need not go into the house if you wish to find her, for about an hour and a half ago I saw her come out into the grounds, and she never goes in till the lamps are lighted."
An anxious look clouded for an instant Dr. Grey's countenance, but undaunted hope sang on of the hours of hallowed communion that the future held, while in her invalid condition he assumed the care and guardianship of his beloved; and, turning into the lawn, he eagerly searched the winding walks for some trace of her, some flutter of her garments, some faint, subtle odor of orange-flowers or tube-roses.
Here and there clusters of purple, pink, and orange crysanthemums flecked the lawn with color; and a flower-stand, covered with china jars that held geraniums, seemed almost a pyramid of flame, from the profusion of scarlet blooms.
The sun had gone down behind a waving line of low hills, where,—
"Thinned to amber, rimmed with silver, Clouds in the distance dwell, Clouds that are cool, for all their color, Pure as a rose-lipped shell. Fleets of wool in the upper heavens Gossamer wings unfurl; Sailing so high they seem but sleeping Over yon bar of pearl."
Still as crystal was the sapphire sea that mirrored that quiet, sapphire sky, and not a murmur, not a ripple, stirred the evening air or the yellow sands that stretched for miles along the winding coast.
When Dr. Grey had partially crossed the lawn, he glanced towards the marble temple that gleamed against the dark background of deodars, and saw a woman sitting on the steps of the tomb. Softly he approached and entered the mausoleum by an arch on the opposite side, but, notwithstanding his cautious tread, he startled a white pigeon that had perched on the altar, where fresh violets, heliotrope, and snowy sprigs of nutmeg-geranium were leaning over the scalloped edge of the Venetian glasses, and distilling perfume in their delicate chalices.
Mrs. Carlyle had brought her floral tribute to the sepulchral urn, and, having carefully arranged her daily Arkja, had seated herself on the steps to rest.
From the two sentinel poplars that guarded the front, golden leaves were sifting down on the marble floor, and three or four had drifted upon the lap of the quiet figure, while one, bright and rich as autumn gilding could make it, rested like a crown on the silver waves that covered her head.
Down the shining steps trailed the folds of the white merino robe, and around her shoulders was wrapped the blue crape shawl, while a cluster of violets seemed to have slipped from her fingers, and strewed themselves at random on her dress.
Softly Dr. Grey drew near, and his voice was tremulously tender, as he said,—
"Mrs. Carlyle, no barrier divides us now."
She did not speak, or turn her queenly head, and he laid his hand caressingly on the glistening gray hair.
"My darling, my first and only love—my brave, beautiful 'Agla,' may I not tell you, at last, what conscience once forbade my uttering?"
As motionless and silent as the sculptured poppies above her, she took no notice of his passionate pleading, and he sprang down one step directly in front of her.
The white face was turned to the sea, and the large, wide, wonderfully lovely yet mournful gray eyes were gazing fixedly across the waste of water, at a filmy cloud as fine as lace, that like a silver netting caught the full October moon which was lifting itself in the pearly east.
The long black lashes did not droop, nor the steady eyes waver, and with a horrible foreboding Dr. Grey seized her hands. They were rigid and icy. He stooped, caught her to his bosom, and pressed his lips to hers, but they were colder than the marble column against which she leaned; for, one hour before, Vashti Carlyle had fronted her God.
Alone in the autumn evening, sitting there with the golden poplar leaves drifting over her, the desolate woman had held her last communion with the watching ocean that hushed its murmuring, to see her die; and, laying down the galling burden of her sunless, dreary life, she had joyfully and serenely "put on immortality" in that everlasting rest, where "there was no more sea, no more death, neither shall there be any more pain, for the former things are passed away."
Ah! beautiful and holy was—
"That peaceful face wherein all past distress Had melted into perfect loveliness."
Since that October day when Ulpian Grey sat on the steps of the tomb, holding in his arms the beautiful white form, whom in life God had denied him the privilege of touching, six months had drifted slowly; yet time had not softened the blow, that, while almost crushing his tender, unselfish heart, had no power to shake the faith which was so securely anchored in Christ.
Among the papers found in Mrs. Carlyle's desk was one containing the request that Dr. Grey would superintend the erection of a handsome monument over the remains of her husband, whenever and wherever he chanced to die; and her will provided that her fortune should be appropriated as the nucleus of a relief fund for indigent painters.
Her own pictures, to which she had carefully affixed in delicate violet ciphers the name "Agla," she directed placed on exhibition in a New York gallery, and ultimately sold for the benefit of the orphans of artists. To Robert she bequeathed a sum sufficient to maintain him in ease and comfort; and to Dr. Grey her escritoire, piano, books, and the sapphire ring she had always worn.
The latter was found in the silver casket, and had been folded in a sheet of paper containing these words,—
"According to the teachings of the Buddhists, 'the sapphire produces equanimity and peace of mind, as well as affording protection against envy and treachery. It produces also prayer and reconciliation with the Godhead, and brings more peace than any other gem of necromancy; but he who would wear it must lead a pure and holy life.' Finding my sapphire asp mockingly inefficacious in its traditional talismanic powers, I conclude that my melancholy career has been a violation of the stipulated condition, and therefore bequeath it to the only human being whom I deem worthy to wear it with any hope of success."
While awaiting orders from the naval department, Dr. Grey purchased "Solitude," whither he removed, with Muriel and Miss Dexter, and temporarily established himself, until the arrival of Mr. Granville.
Immediately after her return from Europe, Salome invested a portion of Mr. Minge's legacy in the site of the old mill that had fallen to ruin. Here she built a small but tasteful cottage orne on the spot where her father had died, and here, with Jessie and Stanley, she proposed to spend her winters; while Mark and Joel were placed at the "Grassmere Farm," a mile distant, and entrusted with its management until the younger children should attain their majority.
Too proud to accept the home which Dr. Grey had tendered her, Salome was earnestly endeavoring to imitate the noble example of self-abnegation that lifted him so far above all others whom she had ever known; and the most precious hope of her life was to reach that exalted excellence which alone could compel his admiration and respect.
From the day of Mrs. Carlyle's death, the orphan had been a comparatively happy woman, for jealousy could not invade or desecrate the grave and its harmless sleeper; and Salome fervently thanked God, that, since she was denied the blessing of Dr. Grey's love, at least she had been spared the torture of seeing him the fond husband of another.
Time had deepened, but refined, purified, and consecrated her unconquerable affection for the only man who had ever commanded her reverence, and whose quiet influence had so happily remoulded her wayward, fiery nature.
There were seasons when the old element of innate perversity re-asserted itself, but the steady reproving gaze of his clear, true eyes, or the warning touch of his hand on her head, had sufficed to still the rising storm.
Conscientiously the passionate, exacting woman was striving to bring her heart and life into subjection to the law,—into conformity with the precepts of Christ; and though she was impulsive, proud Salome still,—the glaring blemishes in her character were gradually disappearing.
One bright balmy spring morning previous to the day appointed for Muriel's marriage, and for her guardian's departure for the fleet in Asiatic waters, where he had been assigned to duty, Dr. Grey drove up the avenue of elms and maples that led to Salome's pretty villa; and as he ascended the steps, Jessie sprang into his arms, and almost smothered him with caresses.
"Oh, doctor! something so wonderful has happened,—you never could guess, and I am as happy as a bee in a woodbine. Sister will tell you."
"Where is she?"
"In the parlor, waiting for you."
The child ran off to join Stanley, who was trying a new pony in the yard, and Dr. Grey went into the cool fragrant room, which was fitted up with more taste than in earlier years he would have ascribed to its owner.
Salome sat before the open piano, and at his entrance raised her face, which had been bowed almost to the ivory keys.
"Good morning, Dr. Grey. I am glad you have come to rejoice with me, and I was just thanking God for the unexpected restoration of my voice. Once when it seemed so necessary to me. He suddenly took it from me; and now, when it is a mere luxury to own it, He as unexpectedly gives it to me once more. Verily,—strange as it may appear, my voice is really better than when Professor V—— pronounced it the first contralto in Europe."
She had risen to greet him, and as he retained her hand in his, she stood close to him, looking earnestly into his face.
There were tears hanging like tremulous dewdrops on the long jet under-lashes,—and the bright red in her polished cheeks, and the crimson curves of her parted lips made a picture pleasant to contemplate.
"My dear child, I do indeed cordially congratulate you. God saw that your voice might possibly prove a snare and a curse, by ministering to false pride and exaggerated vanity, and in mercy and wisdom He temporarily deprived you of an instrument that threatened you with danger. Now that you are stronger, more prudent, and patient, He trusts you again with one of the choicest blessings that can be conferred on a woman. You have deserved to recover it, and I joyfully unite my thanks with yours. Let me hear your voice once more."
Trembling with excess of happiness, she sat down and sang feelingly, eloquently, her favorite "O mon Fernand;" and, as he listened, Dr. Grey looked almost wonderingly at the beautiful flashing face, that had never seemed half so radiant before. There was marvellous witchery in her rich round flexible tones, that wound into the holy-of-holies of the man's great heart, and elevated his thoughts above the dross and dust of earth.
When she ended, he placed his soft palm tenderly on her head, and smoothed the glossy hair.
"I thank you inexpressibly. Sometimes when sad memories oppress me, how I shall long to have you charm them away by that magical spell that bears my thoughts from this world to the next. There are some songs which you must learn for my sake."
Ah! at that moment, as she stood there robed in a soft stainless white muslin, with a cluster of double pomegranate flowers glowing in her silky hair, the girl was very lovely, very attractive, so full of youthful grace, so winning in her beautiful enthusiasm,—yet Ulpian Grey's heart did not wander for an instant from one who slept dreamlessly under the sculptured urn on the marble altar of the mausoleum.
"Why are the dead not dead? Who can undo What time hath done? Who can win back the wind? Beckon lost music from a broken lute? Renew the redness of a last year's rose? Or dig the sunken sunset from the deep?"
"Dr. Grey, if my voice can chase away one vexing thought, one wearying care or melancholy memory, I shall feel that I have additional reason to thank God for the precious gift."
"I have not seen you look so happy for three years. Indeed, my little sister, you have much for which to be grateful, and in the midst of your blessings try to recollect those grand words of Marcus Aurelius Antoninus, 'The soul is a God in exile.' My child, look to it that your expatriation ends with the shores of time, for—
'Yea, this is life; make this forenoon sublime, This afternoon a psalm, this night a prayer, And time is conquered, and thy crown is won.'"
For some seconds Salome did not speak, for the shadow on his countenance fell upon her heart, and looking reverently up at him, she thought of Richter's mournful dictum,—"Great souls attract sorrows, as mountains tempests."
"Dr. Grey, want of patience is the cause of half my difficulties and defeats, and plunges me continually into the slough of distrust and rebellious questioning. I find it so hard to stand still, and let God do his will, and work in his own way."
"My dear Salome, patience is only practical faith, and the want of it causes two-thirds of the world's woes. I often find it necessary to humble my own pride, and tame my restless spirit by recurring to the last words of Schiller, 'Calmer and calmer! many difficult things are growing plain and clear to me. Let us be patient.' Child, sing me one song more, and then come out and show me where you propose to place those grape-arbors we spoke of yesterday. This is the last opportunity I shall have to direct your workmen."
An hour later Salome fastened a sprig of Grand Duke jasmine in the button-hole of his coat,—shook hands with him for the day, and though she smiled in recognition of his final bow as he drove down the avenue, her thoughts were busy with the dreaded separation that awaited her on the morrow and, while her lips were mute, the cry of her heart was,—
... "O Beloved, it is plain I am not of thy worth, nor for thy place. And yet because I love thee, I obtain From that same love this vindicating grace, To live on still in love,—and yet in vain,— To bless thee, yet renounce thee to thy face."
Dr. Grey spent the remainder of the day in visiting his patients, and as he rode from cottage to hovel, bidding adieu to those whose lives had so often been committed to his professional guardianship, he was received with tearful eyes, and trembling hands; and numerous benedictions were invoked upon his head.
Silver threads were beginning to weave an aureola in his chestnut hair, and the smooth white forehead showed incipient furrows, but the deep blue eyes were as tranquil and trusting as of yore, and full of tenderer light for the few he loved, for all in suffering and bereavement.
With a sublime and increasing faith in the overruling wisdom and mercy of God, he patiently and hopefully bore his loneliness and grievous loss,—comforting himself with the assurance that, "the evening of life brings with it its lamp;" and looking eagle-eyed across the storm-drenched plain of the present to the gleaming jasper walls of the Eternal Beyond.
... "My wine has run Indeed out of my cup, and there is none To gather up the bread of my repast Scattered and trampled,—yet I find some good In earth's green herbs, and streams that bubble up, Clear from the darkling ground,—content until I sit with angels before better food. Dear Christ! when thy new vintage fills my cup, This hand shall shake no more, nor that wine spill."
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