SELF-RAISED OR FROM THE DEPTHS
BY MRS. E. D. E. N. SOUTHWORTH
I. RECOVERY II. HERMAN AND ISHMAEL III. FATHER AND SON IV. BEE V. SECOND LOVE VI. AT WOODSIDE VII. AT TANGLEWOOD VIII. WHY CLAUDIA WAS ALONE IX. HOLIDAY X. ISHMAEL AT BRUDENELL XI. THE PROFESSOR OF ODD JOBS XII. THE JOURNEY XIII. LADY VINCENT'S RECEPTION XIV. ROMANCE AND REALITY XV. CASTLE CRAGG XVI. FAUSTINA XVII. THE PLOT AGAINST CLAUDIA XVIII. IN THE TRAITOR'S TOILS XIX. CLAUDIA'S TROUBLES AND PERILS XX. A LINK IN CLAUDIA'S FATE XXI. NEWS FOR ISHMAEL XXII. ISHMAEL'S VISIT TO BEE XXIII. HANNAH'S HAPPY PROGNOSTICS XXIV. THE JOURNEY XXV. THE VOYAGE XXVI. THE STORM XXVII. THE WRECK XXVIII. A DISCOVERY XXIX. A DEEP ONE XXX. A NIGHT OF HORROR XXXI. THE CASTLE VAULT XXXII. THE END OF CLAUDIA'S PRIDE XXXIII. THE COUNTESS OF HURSTMONCEUX, 259 XXXIV. THE RESCUE, 273 XXXV. A FATHER'S VENGEANCE, 283 XXXVI. ON THE VISCOUNT'S TRACK, 296 XXXVII. STILL ON THE TRACK, 306 XXXVIII. CLAUDIA AT CAMERON COURT, 317 XXXIX. SUSPENSE, 327 XL. FATHER AND DAUGHTER, 333 XLI. ARREST OF LORD VINCENT AND FAUSTINA, 345 XLII. A BITTER NIGHT, 357 XLIII. FRUITS OF CRIME, 367 XLIV. NEMESIS, 378 XLV. THE VISCOUNT'S FALL, 392 XLVI. THE FATE OF THE VISCOUNT, 399 XLVII. THE EXECUTION, 410 XLVIII. NEWS FOR CLAUDIA, 419 XLIX. THE FATE OF FAUSTINA, 433 L. LADY HURSTMONCEUX'S REVELATION, 439 LI. ISHMAEL'S ERRAND, 449 LII. THE MEETING OF THE SEVERILD PAIR, 466 LIII. HOME AGAIN, 475 LIV. WHICH IS THE BRIDE? 486 LV. CONCLUSION, 494
Something I know. Oft, shall it come about When every heart is full of hope for man, The horizon straight is darkened, and a doubt Clouds all. The work the youth so well began Wastes down, and by some deed of shame is finished. Ah, yet we will not be dismayed: What seemed the triumph of the Fiend at length Might be the effort of some dying devil, Permitted to put forth his fullest strength To loose it all forever! —Owen Meredith.
Awful as the anguish of his parting with Claudia had been, it was not likely that Ishmael, with his strength of intellect and will, would long succumb to despair. It was not in Claudia's power to make his life quite desolate; how could it be so while Bee cared for him?
Bee had loved Ishmael as long as Ishmael had loved Claudia. She had loved him when he was a boy at school; when he was a young country teacher; when he was a law-student; and she loved him now that he was a successful barrister. This love, founded in esteem and honor, had constantly deepened and strengthened. In loving Ishmael, she found mental and spiritual development; and in being near him and doing him good she found comfort and happiness. And being perfectly satisfied with the present, Bee never gave a thought to the future. That she tacitly left, where it belongs, to God.
Or if at times, on perceiving Ishmael's utter obliviousness of her own kindly presence and his perfect devotion to the thankless Claudia, Bee felt a pang, she went and buried herself with domestic duties, or played with the children in the nursery, or what was better still, if it happened to be little Lu's "sleepy time" she would take her baby-sister up to her own room, sit down and fold her to her breast and rock and sing her to sleep. And certainly the clasp of those baby-arms about her neck, and the nestling of that baby-form to her bosom, drew out all the heart-ache and soothed all the agitation.
Except these little occasional pangs Bee had always been blessed in loving. Her love, all unrequited, as it seemed, was still the sweetest thing in the world to her; and it seemed thus, because in fact it was so well approved by her mind and so entirely unselfish. It seemed to be her life, or her soul, or one with both; Bee was not metaphysical enough to decide which. She would not struggle with this love, or try to conquer it, any more than she would have striven against and tried to destroy her mental and spiritual life. On the contrary she cherished it as she did her religion, of which it was a part; she cherished it as she did her love of God, with which it was united.
And loving Ishmael in this way, if she should fail to marry him, Bee resolved never to marry another; but to live and die a maiden; still cherishing, still hiding this most precious love in her heart as a miser hides his gold. Whether benign nature would have permitted the motherly little maiden to have carried out this resolution, I do not know; or what Bee would have done in the event of Ishmael's marrying another, she did not know. When Claudia went away, Bee, in the midst of her regret at parting with her cousin, felt a certain sense of relief: but when she saw the effect of that departure upon Ishmael she became alarmed for him; and after the terrible experiences of that day and night Bee's one single thought in life was—Ishmael's good.
On the morning succeeding that dreadful day and night, Ishmael awoke early, in full possession of his faculties. He remembered all the incidents of that trying day and night; reflected upon their effects; and prayed to God to deliver him from the burden and guilt of inordinate and sinful affections.
Then he arose, made his toilet, read a portion of the Scriptures, offered up his morning prayers, and went below stairs.
In the breakfast parlor he found Bee, the busy little house-keeper, fluttering softly around the breakfast table, and adding a few finishing touches to its simple elegance.
Very fair, fresh, and blooming looked Bee in her pale golden ringlets and her pretty morning dress of white muslin with blue ribbons. There was no one else in the room; but Bee advanced and held out her hand to him.
He took her hand, and retaining it in his own for a moment, said:
"Oh, Bee! yesterday, last night!"
"'Upbraid not the past; it comes not back again.' Ishmael! bury it; forget it; and press onward!" replied Bee sweetly and solemnly.
He raised her hand with the impulse to carry it to his lips; but refraining, bowed his forehead over it instead, and then gently released it. For Ishmael's affection for Bee was reverential. To him she appeared saintly, Madonna-like, almost angelic.
"Let me make breakfast for you at once, Ishmael. It is not of the least use to wait for the others. Mamma, I know, is not awake yet, and none of the gentlemen have rung for their hot water."
"And you, Bee; you will also breakfast now?"
And she rang and gave her orders. And the coffee, muffins, fried fresh perch, and broiled spring chickens speedily made their appearance.
"Jim," she said to the waiter who set the breakfast on the table, "tell cook to keep some of the perch and pullets dressed to put over the fire the moment she hears the judge's bell ring, so that his breakfast may be ready for him when he comes down."
"Very well, miss," answered Jim, who immediately left the room to give the order; but soon returned to attend upon the table.
So it was a tete-a-tete meal, but Bee made it very pleasant. After breakfast Ishmael left Bee to her domestic duties and went up into the office to look after the letters and papers that had been left for him by the penny postman that morning.
He glanced over the newspapers; read the letters; selected those he would need during the day; put the others carefully away; tied up his documents; took up his hat and gloves, and set out for his daily business at the City Hall.
In the ante-chamber of the Orphans' Court Room he met old Wiseman, who clapped him on the shoulder, exclaiming:
"How are you this morning, old fellow? All right, eh?"
"Thank you, I am quite well again," replied Ishmael.
"Ah ha! nothing like good brandy to get one up out of a fit of exhaustion."
"Ah!" exclaimed Ishmael, with a shudder.
"Well, and have you thought over what we were talking of yesterday?"
"It was—" Ishmael began, and then hesitated.
"It was about your going into partnership with me."
"Oh, yes! so it was! but I have not had time to think of it yet."
"Well, think over it today, will you, and then after the court has adjourned come to my chambers and talk the matter over with me. Will you?"
"Thank you, yes, certainly."
"Ah, well! I will not keep you any longer, for I see that you are in a hurry."
"It is because I have an appointment at ten," said Ishmael courteously.
"Certainly; and appointments must be kept. Good morning."
"Good morning, Mr. Wiseman."
"Mind, you are to come to my chambers after the court has adjourned."
"I will remember and come," said Ishmael.
And each went his way.
Ishmael had not yet seriously thought of Lawyer Wiseman's proposal. This forenoon, however, in the intervals of his professional business, he reflected on it.
The proposed partnership was unquestionably a highly advantageous one, in a worldly point of view. Lawyer Wiseman was undoubtedly the best lawyer and commanded the largest practice at the Washington bar, with one single exception—that of the brilliant young barrister whom he proposed to associate with himself. Together, they would be invincible, carrying everything before them; and Ishmael's fortune would be rapidly made.
So far the offer was a very tempting one; yet the more Ishmael reflected on it the more determined he became to refuse it; because, in fact, his conscience would not permit him to enter into partnership with Lawyer Wiseman, for the following reasons: Lawyer Wiseman, a man of unimpeachable integrity in his private life, declined to carry moral responsibility into his professional business. He was indiscriminate in his acceptation of briefs. It mattered not whether the case presented to him was a case of injustice, cruelty, or oppression, so that it was a case for law, with a wealthy client to back it. The only question with Lawyer Wiseman being the amount of the retaining fee. If his client liberally anointed Lawyer Wiseman's eyes with golden ointment, Lawyer Wiseman would undertake to see and make the judge and jury see anything and everything that his client wished! With such a man as this, therefore, whatever the professional advantages of the association might be, Ishmael could not enter into partnership.
And so when the court had adjourned Ishmael walked over to the chambers of Mr. Wiseman on Louisiana Avenue, and in an interview with the old lawyer courteously declined his offer.
This considerably astonished Mr. Wiseman, who pressed Ishmael for the reasons of his strange refusal.
And Ishmael, being urged, at length candidly confessed them.
Instead of being angry, as might have been expected, the old lawyer was simply amused. He laughed at his young friend's scruples, and assured him that experience would cure them. And the interview having been brought to a close, they shook hands and parted amicably.
Ishmael hurried home to dine and spend the evening with the family.
On the Monday following, at the order of Judge Merlin, preparations were commenced for shutting up the town house and leaving Washington for Tanglewood; for the judge swore that, let anyone whatever get married, or christened, stay in the city another week he could not, without decomposing, for that his soul had already left his body and preceded him to Tanglewood, whither he must immediately follow it.
Oh, but Bee had plenty of work to look after that week—the packing up of all the children's clothes, and of all the household effects— such as silver plate, cut-glass, fine china, cutlery, etc., that were to be sent forward to Tanglewood.
She would have had to overlook the packing of the books also, but that Ishmael insisted on relieving her of that task, by doing it all with his own hands, as indeed he preferred to do it, for his love of books was almost—tender. It was curious to see him carefully straighten the leaves and brush the cover and edges of an old book, as conscientiously as he would have doctored a hurt child. They were friends and he was fond of them.
Ishmael continued steadily in the performance of all his duties, yet that he was still suffering very much might be observed in the abiding paleness and wasting thinness of his face, and in a certain languor and weariness in all his movements.
Bee in the midst of her multifarious cares did not forget his interests; she took pains to have his favorite dishes appear on the table in order to tempt him to take food. But, observing that he still ate little or nothing, while he daily lost flesh, she took an opportunity of saying to him in the library:
"Ishmael, you know I am a right good little doctress; I have had so much experience in nursing father and mother and the children; so I know what I am talking about, when I tell you that you need a tonic."
"Oh, Bee! if you did but really know, little sister!"
"I do know, Ishmael, I know it all!" she said gently.
"'Out of the heart are the issues of life!' Bee, mine has received a paralyzing blow."
"I know it, dear Ishmael; I know it; but let your great mind sustain that stricken heart until it recovers the blow. And in the meantime try to get up your strength. You must have more food and more rest, and in order to secure them you must take a tonic in the morning to give you an appetite, and a sedative at night to give you sleep. That was the way we saved mamma after little Mary died, or, indeed, I think she would have followed her."
Ishmael smiled a very wan smile as he answered:
"Indeed, I am ashamed of this utter weakness, Bee."
"Why should you be? Has Providence given you any immunity from the common lot? We must take our human nature as it is given to us and do the best we can with it, I think."
"What a wise little woman you are, Bee."
"That's because I have got a good memory. The wisdom was second- handed, Ishmael, being just what I heard you yourself say when you were defending Featherstonehaugh:
"'There's nothing original in me Excepting original sin.'"
"And, now, will you follow my advice?"
"To the letter, dear Bee, whenever you are so good as to advise me. Ah, Bee, you seem to comprise in yourself all that that I have missed of family affection, and to compensate me for the unknown love of her mother, sister, friend."
"Do I, Ishmael? Oh, I wish that I really did!" said Bee, impulsively; and then she blushed deeply at suddenly apprehending the construction that might he put upon her words.
But Ishmael answered those words in the spirit in which they were uttered:
"Believe me, dearest Bee, you do. If I never feel the want of home affections it is because I have them all in you. My heart finds rest in you, Bee. But oh, little sister, what can I ever render to you for all the good you have done me from my childhood up?"
"Render yourself good and wise and great, Ishmael, and I shall be sufficiently happy in watching your upward progress," said Bee.
And quietly putting down on the table a bunch of grapes that she had brought, she withdrew from the office.
HERMAN AND ISHMAEL.
With a deep groan he cried—"Oh, gifted one, I am thy father! Hate me not, my son!" —Anon.
Nor are my mother's wrongs forgot; Her slighted love and ruined name, Her offspring's heritage of shame, Shall witness for thee from the dead How trusty and how tender were Thy youthful love—paternal care! —Byron.
Her exit was almost immediately followed by the entrance of Mr. Brudenell. He also had noticed Ishmael's condition, and attributed it to overwork, and to the want of rest, with change of air. He was preparing to leave Washington for Brudenell Hall. He was going a few days in advance of Judge Merlin and the Middletons, and he intended to invite Ishmael to accompany him, or to come after him, and make a visit to Brudenell. He earnestly desired to have Ishmael there to himself for a week or two. It was with this desire that he now entered the library.
Ishmael arose from his packing, and, smiling a welcome, set a chair for his visitor.
"You are not looking well, Mr. Worth," said Herman Brudenell, as he took the offered seat.
"I am not well just at present, but I shall be so in a day or two," returned Ishmael.
"Not if you continue the course you are pursuing now, my young friend. You require rest and change of air. I shall leave Washington for Brudenell Hall on Thursday morning. It would give me great pleasure if you would accompany me thither, and remain my guest for a few weeks, to recruit your health. The place is noted for its salubrity; and though the house has been dismantled, and has remained vacant for some time, yet I hope we will find it fitted up comfortably again; for I have written down to an upholsterer of Baymouth to send in some furniture, and I have also written to a certain genius of all trades, called the 'professor,' to go over and see it all arranged, and do what else is needed to be done for our reception."
Ishmael smiled when he heard the name of the professor; but before he could make any comment, Mr. Brudenell inquired:
"What do you say, Mr. Worth? Will you accompany me thither, or will you come after me?"
"I thank you very much, Mr. Brudenell. I should like to visit Brudenell Hall; but—"
"Then you will come? I am very glad! I shall be alone there with my servants, you know, and your society will be a god-send to me. Had you not better go down at once when I do? I go by land, in a hired carriage. The carriage is very comfortable; and we can make the journey in two days, and lay by during the heat of both days. I think the trip will be pleasant. We can reach Brudenell Hall on Friday night, and have a good rest before Sunday, when we can go to the old country church, where you will be likely to meet the faces of some of your old friends. I think we shall be very comfortable, keeping bachelor-hall together at Brudenell Hall this summer, Mr. Worth," said Herman Brudenell, who longed more than tongue could tell to have Nora's son at home with him, though it might be only for a short time.
"I feel your kindness very much indeed, Mr. Brudenell; and I should be very, very happy to accept your hospitable invitation; but—I was about to say, it really is quite impossible in the existing state of my business for me to go anywhere at present," said Ishmael courteously.
"Indeed? I am very sorry for that. But the reasons you give are unanswerable, I know. I am seriously disappointed. Yet I trust, though you may not be able to come just at present, you will follow me down there after a little while—say in the course of a few days or weeks—for I shall remain at the hall all summer and shall be always delighted to receive you. Will you promise to come?"
"Indeed, I fear I cannot promise that either, for I have a very great pressure of business; but if I can possibly manage to go, without infringing upon my duties, I shall be grateful for the privilege and very happy to avail myself of it; for—do you know, sir?—I was born in that neighborhood and passed my childhood and youth there. I love the old place, and almost long to see the old hut where I lived, and the hall where I went to school, and the wooded valley that lies between them, where I gathered wild-flowers and fruits in summer and nuts in winter, and—my mother's grave," said the unconscious son, speaking confidentially, and looking straight into his father's eyes.
"Ishmael," said Herman Brudenell, in a faltering voice, and forgetting to be formal, "you must come to me: that grave should draw you, if nothing else; it is a pious pilgrimage when a son goes to visit his mother's grave."
There was something in this new friend's words, look, and manner that always drew out the young man's confidence, and he said, in a voice trembling with emotion:
"She died young, sir; and oh! so sorrowfully! She was only nineteen, two years younger than I am now; and her son was motherless the hour he was born."
Violent emotion shook the frame of Herman Brudenell. He had not entered the room with any intention of making a disclosure to Ishmael; but he felt now that—come life, come death, come whatever might of it—he must claim Nora's son.
"Ishmael," he began, in a voice shaken with agitation, "I knew your mother."
"You, sir!" exclaimed the young man in surprise.
"Yes, I knew her and her sister, naturally, for they were tenants of mine."
"I knew that they lived on the outskirts of the Brudenell estate; but I did not know you were personally acquainted with them, sir; for I thought that you had resided generally in Europe."
"Not all the time; I was at Brudenell Hall when—you were born and your mother went to heaven, Ishmael."
Some of the elder man's agitation communicated itself to the younger, who half arose from his seat and looked intently at the speaker.
"I knew your mother in those days, Ishmael. She was not only one of the most beautiful women of her day, but one of the purest, noblest, and best."
Herman Brudenell hesitated. And Ishmael, who had dropped again into his seat, bent eagerly forward, holding his breath while he listened.
"You resemble her in person and character, Ishmael. All that is best and noblest and most attractive in you, Ishmael, is derived under Divine Providence from your mother."
"I know it! Oh, I know it!"
"And, Ishmael, I loved your mother!"
"Oh, Heaven!" breathed the young man, in sickening, deadly apprehension; for well he remembered that this Mr. Herman Brudenell was the husband of the Countess of Hurstmonceux at the very time of which he now spoke.
"Ishmael, do not look so cruelly distressed. I loved her, she loved me in return, she crowned my days with joy, and—"
A gasping sound of suddenly suspended breath from Ishmael.
"I made her my wife," continued Herman Brudenell, in a grave and earnest voice.
"It was you then!" cried Ishmael, shaking with agitation.
"It was I!"
Silence like a pall fell between them.
"Oh, Ishmael! my son! my son! speak to me! give me your hand!" groaned Herman Brudenell.
"She was your wife! Yet she died of want, exposure, and grief!" said Nora's son, standing pale and stony before him.
"And I—live with a breaking heart! a harder fate, Ishmael. Since her death, I have been a wifeless, childless, homeless wanderer over the wide world! Oh, Ishmael! my son! my son! give me your hand!"
"I am your mother's son! She was your wife, you say; yet she never bore your name! She was your wife; yet her son and yours bears her maiden name! She was your wife; yet she perished miserably in her early youth; and undeserved reproach is suffered to rest upon her memory! Oh, sir! if indeed you were her husband and my father, as you claim to be, explain these things before I give you my hand! for when I give my hand, honor and respect must go with it," said Ishmael in a grave, sweet, earnest tone.
"Is it possible that Hannah has never told you? I thought she would have told you everything, except the name of your father."
"She told me everything that she could tell without violating the oath of secrecy by which she was hound; but what she told me was not satisfactory."
"Sit down then, Ishmael, sit down; and though to recall this woeful history will be to tear open old wounds afresh, I will do so; and when you have heard it, you will know how blameless we both—your mother and myself—really were, and how deep has been the tragedy of my life as well as hers—the difference between us being that hers is a dead trouble, from which she rests eternally, while mine is a living and life-long sorrow!"
Ishmael again dropped into his chair and gave undivided attention to the speaker.
And Mr. Brudenell, after a short pause, commenced and gave a narrative of his own eventful life, beginning with his college days, and detailing all the incidents of his youthful career until it culminated in the dreadful household wreck that had killed Nora, exiled his family and blasted his own happiness forever.
Ishmael listened with the deepest sympathy.
It was indeed the tearing open of old wounds in Herman Brudenell's breast; and it was the inflicting of new ones in Ishmael's heart. It was an hour of unspeakable distress to both. Herman did not spare himself in the relation; yet in the end Ishmael exculpated his father from all blame. We know indeed that in his relations with Nora he was blameless, unless his fatal haste could be called a fault. And so for his long neglect of Ishmael, which really was a great sin, and the greatest he had ever committed, Ishmael never gave a thought to that, it was only a sin against himself, and Ishmael was not selfish enough to feel or resent it.
Herman Brudenell ended his story very much as he had commenced it.
"And since that day of doom, Ishmael, I have been a lonely, homeless, miserable wanderer over the wide world! The fabled Wandering Jew not more wretched than I!" And the bowed head, blanched complexion, and quivering features bore testimony to his words.
FATHER AND SON.
For though thou work'st my mother ill I feel thou art my father still! —Byron.
Yet what no chance could then reveal, And no one would be first to own, Let fate and courage still conceal, When truth could bring reproach alone. —Milnes.
Ishmael had been violently shaken. It was with much effort that he controlled his own emotions in order to administer consolation to one who was suffering even more than he himself was, because that suffering was blended with a morbid remorse.
"Father," he said, reaching forth his hand to the stricken man; but his voice failed him.
Herman Brudenell looked up; an expression of earnest love chasing away the sorrow from his face, as he said:
"Father? Ah, what a dear name! You call me thus, Ishmael? Me, who worked your mother so much woe?"
"Father, it was your great misfortune, not your fault; she said it on her death-bed, and the words of the dying are sacred," said Ishmael earnestly, and caressing the pale, thin hand that he held.
"Oh, Nora! Oh, Nora!" exclaimed Herman, as all his bosom's wounds bled afresh.
"Father, do not grieve so bitterly; and after all these years so morbidly! God has wiped away all tears from her eyes. She has been a saint in glory these many years!"
"You try to comfort me, Ishmael. You, Nora's son?" exclaimed Herman, with increased emotion.
"Who else of all the world should comfort you but Nora's son?"
"You love me, then, a little, Ishmael?"
"She loved you, my father, and why should not I?"
"Ah, that means that you will love me in time; for love is not born in an instant, my son."
"My heart reaches out to you, my father: I love you even now, and sympathize with you deeply; and I feel that I shall love you more and more, and as I shall see you oftener and know you better," said the simply truthful son.
"Ishmael! this is the happiest hour I have known since Nora's death, and Nora's son has given it to me."
"None have a better right to serve you."
"My son, I am a prematurely old and broken man, ruined and impoverished, but Brudenell Hall is still mine, and the name of Brudenell is one of the most ancient and honored in the Old and New World! If you consent, Ishmael, I will gladly, proudly, and openly acknowledge you as my son. I will get an act of the Legislature passed authorizing you to take the name and arms of Brudenell. And I will make you the heir of Brudenell Hall. What say you, Ishmael?"
"Father," said the young man, promptly but respectfully, "no! In all things I will be to you a true and loving son; but I cannot, cannot consent to your proposal; because to do so would be to cast bitter, heavy, unmerited reproach upon my sweet mother's memory! For, listen, sir: you are known to have been the husband of the Countess Hurstmonceux for more years than I have lived in this world; you are known to have been so at the very time of my birth; you could not go about explaining the circumstances to everyone who would become acquainted with the facts, and the consequences would be what I said! No, father, leave me as I am; for, besides the reasons I have given, there is yet another reason why I may not take your name."
"What is that, Ishmael?" asked Brudenell, in a broken voice.
"It is, that in an hour of passionate grief, after hearing my mother's woeful story from the lips of my aunt, I fell upon that mother's grave and vowed to make her name—the only thing she had to leave me, poor mother!—illustrious. It was a piece of boyish vainglory, no doubt, but it was a vow, and I must try to keep it," said Ishmael, faintly smiling.
"You will keep it; you will make the name of Worth illustrious in the annals of the country, Ishmael," said Mr. Brudenell.
There was a pause for a little while, at the end of which the latter said:
"There is another way in which I may be able to accomplish my purpose, Ishmael. Without proclaiming you as my son, and risking the reproach you dread for your dear mother's memory, I might adopt you as my son, and appoint you as my heir. Will you make me happy by consenting to that measure, Ishmael?" inquired the father, in a persuasive tone.
"Dear sir, I cannot. Oh, do not think that I am insensible to all your kindness, for indeed I am not! I thank you; I love you; and I deeply sympathize with you in your disappointment; but—"
"But what, my son? what is the reason you cannot agree to this last proposal?" asked Mr. Brudenell, in a voice quivering with emotion.
"A strong spirit of independence, the growth of years of lonely struggle with the world, possesses and inspires me. I could not for an hour endure patronage or dependence, come they from where or how they might. It is the law of my life," said Ishmael firmly, but affectionately.
"It is a noble law, and yours has been a noble life, my son. But—is there nothing, nothing I can do for you to prove my affection, and to ease my heart, Ishmael?"
"Yes!" said the young man, after a pause. "When you return to England, you will see—Lady Vincent!" The name was uttered with a gasp. "Tell her what you have told me—the history of your acquaintance with my mother; your mutual love; your private marriage, and the unforeseen misfortune that wrecked your happiness! Tell her how pure and noble and lovely my young mother was! that her ladyship may know once for all Nora Worth was not"—Ishmael covered his face with his hands, and caught his breath, and continued—"not, as she said, 'the shame of her own sex and the scorn of ours'; that her son is not 'the child of sin,' nor 'his heritage dishonor!'" And Ishmael dropped his stately head upon his desk, and sobbed aloud; sobbed until all his athletic form shook with the storm of his great agony.
Herman Brudenell gazed at him—appalled. Then, rising, he laid his hand on the young man's shoulder, saying:
"Ishmael! Ishmael! don't do so! Calm yourself, my son; oh, my dear son, calm yourself!"
He might as well have spoken to a tempest. Sobs still shook Ishmael's whole frame.
"Oh, Heaven! oh, Heaven! Would to the Lord I had never been born!" cried Herman Brudenell, in a voice of such utter woe that Ishmael raised his head and struggled hard to subdue the storm of passion that was raging in his bosom. "Or would that I had died the day I met Nora, and before I had entailed all this anguish on you!" continued Herman Brudenell, amid groans and sighs.
"Don't say so, my father! don't say so! You were not in fault. You were as blameless as she herself was; and you could not have been more so," said Ishmael, wiping his fevered brow, and looking up.
"My generous son! But did Claudia—did Lady Vincent use the cruel words you have quoted, against your mother and yourself?"
"She did, my father. Oh, but I have suffered!" exclaimed Ishmael, with shaking voice and quivering features.
"I know you have; I know it, Ishmael; but you have grandly, gloriously conquered suffering," said Mr. Brudenell, with enthusiasm.
"Not quite conquered it yet; but I shall endeavor to do so," replied the young man, who had now quite regained his self-possession.
And another pause fell between them.
Ishmael leaned his head upon his hand and reflected deeply for a few moments. Then, raising his head, he said:
"My father, for her sake, our relationship must remain a secret from all the world, with the few exceptions of those intimate friends to whom you can explain the circumstances, and even to them it must be imparted in confidence. You will tell Lady Vincent, that her ladyship may know how false were the calumnies she permitted herself to repeat; and Judge Merlin and Mr. Middleton, whose kindness has entitled them to the confidence, for their own satisfaction."
"And no one else, Ishmael?"
"No one else in the world, my father. I myself will tell Uncle Reuben. And in public, my father, we must be discreet in our intercourse with each other. Forgive me if I speak in too dictatorial a manner; I speak for lips that are dumb in death. I speak as my dead mother's advocate," said Ishmael, with a strange blending of meekness and firmness in his tone and manner.
"And her advocate shall be heard and heeded, hard as his mandate seems. But, ah! I am an old and broken man, Ishmael. I had hoped, in time, to claim you as my son, and solace my age in your bright youth. I am grievously disappointed. Oh! would to Heaven I had taken charge of you in your infancy, and then you would not disclaim me now!" sighed Mr. Brudenell.
"I do not disclaim you, father. I only deprecate the publicity that might wound my mother's memory. And you are not old and broken, my father. How can you be—at forty-three? You are in the sunny summer noon of your life. But you are harassed and ill in mind and body; and you are very morbid and sensitive. You shun society, form no new ties with your fellow-creatures, and brood over that old sad tragedy long passed. Think no more of it, father; its wounds are long since healed in every heart but yours; my mother has been in heaven these many years; as long as I have been on earth; my birthday here was her birthday there! Therefore, brood no more over that sad time; it is forever past and gone. Think of your young love as much as you please; but think of her in heaven. It is not well to think forever of the Crucifixion and never of the Ascension; forever of the martyrdom that was but for a moment, and never of the glory that is from everlasting to everlasting. Nora was martyred; her martyrdom was as the grief of a moment; but she has ascended and her happiness is eternal in the heavens. Think of her so. And rouse yourself. Wake to the duties and pleasures of life. Look around upon and enjoy the beauty of the earth, the wisdom of man, the loveliness of woman, and the goodness of God. If you were a single man I should say 'marry again'; but as you are already a married man, though estranged from your wife, I say to you, seek a reconciliation with that lady. You are both in the prime of life."
"What! does Nora's son give me such advice?" inquired Brudenell, with a faint, incredulous smile.
"Yes, he does; as Nora herself in her wisdom and love would do, could she speak to you from heaven," said Ishmael solemnly Brudenell slowly and sorrowfully shook his head.
"The Countess of Hurstmonceux can nevermore be anything to me," he said.
"My father! have you then no kindly memory of the sweet young lady who placed her innocent affections upon you in your early manhood, and turning away from all her wealthy and titled suitors, gave herself and her fortune to you?"
Slowly and bitterly Herman Brudenell shook his head. Ishmael, still looking earnestly in his face continued:
"Who left her native country and her troops of friends, and crossed the sea alone, to follow you to a home that must have seemed like a wilderness, and servants that were like savages to her; who devoted her time and spent her money in embellishing your house and improving your land, and in civilizing and Christianizing your negroes; and who passed the flower of her youth in that obscure neighborhood, doing good and waiting patiently long, weary years for the return of the man she loved."
Still the bitter, bitter gesture of negation from Herman.
"Father," said Ishmael, fixing his beautiful eyes on Brudenell's face and speaking earnestly, "it seems to me that if any young lady had loved me with such devotion and constancy, I must have loved her fondly in return. I could not have helped doing so!"
"She wronged me, Ishmael!"
"And even if she had offended me—deeply and justly offended me—I must have forgiven her and taken her back to my bosom again."
"It was worse than that, Ishmael! It was no common offense. She deceived me! She was false to me!"
"I cannot believe it!" exclaimed Ishmael earnestly.
"Why, what ground have you for saying so? What can you know of it?"
"Because I do not easily think evil of women. My life has been short and my experience limited, I know; but as far as my observation instructs me, they are very much better than we are; they do not readily yield to evil; their tendencies are all good," said Ishmael fervently.
"Young man, you know a great deal of books, a great deal of law; but little of men, and less of women. A man of the world would smile to hear you say what you have just said, Ishmael."
"If I am mistaken, it is a matter to weep over, not to smile at!" said Ishmael gravely, and almost severely.
"It is true."
"But to return to your countess, my father. I am not mistaken in that lady's face, I know. I have not seen it since I was eight years old; but it is before me now! a sweet, sad, patient young face, full of holy love. Among the earliest memories of my life is that of the young Countess of Hurstmonceux, and the stories that were afloat concerning herself and you. It was said that every day at sunset she would go to the turnstile at the crossroads on the edge of the estate, where she could see all up and down two roads for many miles, and there stand watching to catch the first glimpse of you, if perhaps you might be returning home. She did this for years and years, until people began to say that she was crazed with hope deferred. It was at that very stile I first saw her. And when I looked at her lovely face and thought of her many charities—for there was no suffering from poverty in that neighborhood while she lived there—I felt that she was an angel!"
"Aye! a fallen angel, Ishmael!"
"No, father! no! my life and soul on her truth and love! Children are good judges of character, you know! And I was but eight years old on the occasion of which I speak! I was carrying a basket of tools for the 'professor,' whose assistant I was; and who would have carried them himself only that his back was bent beneath a load of kitchen utensils, for we had been plastering a cistern all day and in coming home took these things to mend in the evening. And as we passed down the road we saw this lovely lady leaning on the stile. And she called me to her and laid her hand on my head and looked in my face very tenderly, and turning to the professor, said: 'This child is too young for so heavy a burden.' And she took out her purse and would have given me an eagle, only that Aunt Hannah had taught me never to take money that I had not earned."
"Grim Hannah! It is a marvel she had not starved you with her scruples, Ishmael! But what else passed between you and the countess?"
"Not much! but if she was sorry for me, I was quite as sorry for her."
"There was a bond of sympathy between you which you felt without understanding at the time!"
"There was; though I mistook its precise character. Seeing that she wore black, I said: 'Have you also lost your mother, my lady, and are you in deep mourning for her?' And she answered, 'I am in deep mourning for my dead happiness, child!'"
"For her dead honor, she might have said!"
"Father! the absent are like the dead; they cannot defend themselves," said Ishmael.
"That is true; and I stand rebuked! And henceforth, whatever I may think, I will never speak evil of the Countess of Hurstmonceux."
"Go farther yet, dear sir! seek an explanation with her, and my word on it she will be able to confute the calumnies, or clear up the suspicious circumstances or whatever it may have been that has shaken your confidence in her, and kept you apart so long."
"Ishmael it is a subject that I have never broached to the countess, and one that I could not endure to discuss with her!"
"What, my father? Would you forever condemn her unheard? We do not treat our worst criminals so!"
"Spare me, my son! for I have spared her!"
"If by sparing her you mean that you have left her alone, you had better not spared her; you had better sought divorce; then one of two things would have happened—either she would have disproved the charges brought against her, or she would have been set free! either alternative much better than her present condition."
"I could not drag my domestic troubles into a public courtroom, Ishmael!"
"Not when justice required it, father?—But you are going down into the neighborhood of Brudenell Hall! You will hear of her from the people among whom she lived for so many years, and who cherish her memory as that of an angel of mercy, and—you will change your opinion of her."
Herman Brudenell smiled incredulously, and then said:
"Apropos of my visit to Brudenell Hall! I hope, Ishmael, that you will be able to join me there in the course of the summer?"
"Father, yes! I promise you to do so. I will be at pains to put my business in such train as will enable me to visit you for a week or two."
"Thanks, Ishmael! And now, do you know I think the first dinner bell rang some time ago and it is time to dress?"
And Herman Brudenell arose, and after pressing Ishmael's hand, left the library.
The interview furnished Ishmael with too much food for thought to admit of his moving for some time. He sat by the table in a brown study, reflecting upon all that he had heard, until he was suddenly startled by the pealing out of the second bell. Then he sprang up, hurried to his chamber, hastily arranged his toilet, and went down into the dining room, where he found all the family already assembled and waiting for him.
And coldly from that noble heart, In all its glowing youth, His lore had turned and spurned apart Its tenderness and truth— Let him alone to live, or die— Alone!—Yet, who is she? Some guardian angel from the sky, To bless and aid him?—Bee! —Anon.
Ishmael received many other invitations. One morning, while he was seated at the table in his office, Walter Middleton entered, saying:
"Ishmael, leave reading over those stupid documents and listen to me. I am going to Saratoga for a month. Come with me; it will do you good."
"Thank you all the same, Walter; but I cannot leave the city now," said Ishmael.
"Nonsense! there is but little doing; and now, if ever, you should take some recreation."
"But I am busy with getting up some troublesome cases for the next term."
"And that's worse than nonsense! Leave the cases alone until the court sits; take some rest and recreation and you will find it pay well in renewed vigor of body and mind. I that tell you so am an M. D., you know."
"I thank you, Dr. Middleton, and when I find myself growing weak I will follow your prescription," smiled Ishmael, rising and beginning to tie up his documents.
"And that's a signal for my dismissal, I suppose. Off to the City Hall again this morning?" inquired Walter.
"Yes; to keep an appointment," replied Ishmael. And the friends separated.
Later in the day, when the young attorney had returned and was spending his leisure hour in going on with the book-packing, Judge Merlin entered and threw himself into a chair and for some moments watched the packer.
"What is that you are doing now, Ishmael? Oh, I see; doctoring a sick book!"
"Well, I dislike to see a fine volume that has served us faithfully and seen hard usage perish for the want of a moment's attention; it is but that which is required when we have the mucilage at hand," he said, smiling and pointing to the bottle and brush, and then deposited the book in its packing-case.
"But that is not what I come to talk to you about. Have you found a proper room for an office yet?"
"Yes; I have a suite of rooms on the first floor of a house on Louisiana Avenue. The front room I shall use for a public office, the middle one for a private office, and the back one, which opens upon a pleasant porch and a garden, for a bedchamber; for I shall lodge there and board with the family," replied Ishmael.
"That seems to be a pleasant arrangement. But, Ishmael, take my advice and engage a clerk immediately;—you will want one before long, anyhow—and put him in your rooms to watch your business, and do you take a holiday. Come down to Tanglewood for a month. You need the change. After the wilderness of houses and men you want the world of trees and birds. At least I do, and I judge you by myself."
Ishmael smiled, thanked his kind friend cordially, and then, in terms as courteous as he could devise, declined the invitation, giving the same reasons for doing so that he had already given first to Mr. Brudenell and next to Walter Middleton.
"Well, Ishmael, I will not urge you, for I know by past experience when you have once made up your mind to a course of conduct you deem right, nothing on earth will turn you aside from it. But see here! why do you go through all that drudgery? Why not order Powers to pack those books?"
"Powers is a pearl in his own way; but he cannot pack books; and besides, he has no respect for them."
"No feeling, you mean! he would not dress their wounds before putting them to bed in those boxes!"
"Well, 'a wilfu' mon maun ha' his way,'" said the judge, taking up the evening paper and burying himself in its perusal. That same night, while Ishmael, having finished his day's work, was refreshing himself by strolling through the garden, inhaling the fragrance of flowers, listening to the gleeful chirp of the joyous little insects, and watching the light of the stars, he heard an advancing step behind him, and presently his arm was taken by Mr. Middleton, who, walking on with him, said:
"What are you going to do with yourself, Ishmael?"
"Put myself to work like a beaver!"
"Humph! that will be nothing new for you. But I came out here to induce you to reconsider that resolution. I wish to persuade you to join us at Beacon House. That high promontory stretching far out to sea and exposed to all the sea breezes will be the very place to recruit your health at. Come, what say you?"
Ishmael's eyes grew moist as he grasped Mr. Middleton's hand and said:
"Three invitations of this sort I have already had—this is the fourth. My friends are too kind. I know not how I have won such friendship or deserved such kindness. But I cannot avail myself of the pleasant quarters they offer me. I cannot, at present, leave Washington, except at such a sacrifice of professional duties as they would not wish me to make. Mr. Middleton, I thank you heartily all the same."
"Well, Ishmael, I am sorry to lose your company; but not sorry for the cause of the loss. The pressure of business that confines you to the city during the recess argues much for your popularity and success. But, my dear boy, pray consider my invitation as a standing one, and promise me to avail yourself of it the first day you can do so."
"Thank you; that I will gladly do, Mr. Middleton."
"And when you come, remain with us as long as you can without neglecting your duty."
"Indeed I will."
At that moment a light rustle through the bushes was heard and Bee joined them, saying:
"Papa, if I were to tell you the dew is falling heavily and the grass is wet, and it is not good for you or Ishmael to be out here, you might not heed me. But when I say that uncle has gone with General Tourneysee to a political pow-wow, and mamma and myself are quite alone and would like to amuse ourselves with a game of whist, perhaps you will come in and be our partners."
"Why, certainly, Busy Bee; for if anyone in this world deserves play after work it is you," replied Mr. Middleton.
"Right face! forward! march!" then said Bee; and she led her captives out of the night air and into the house.
Early the next morning Ishmael was surprised by a fifth invitation to a country house. It was contained in a letter from Reuben Gray, which was as follows:
"Woodside,—Monday Morning. "My Deer Ishmael:—Hannah and me, we hav bin a havin of a talk about you. You see the judge he wrote to me a spell back, a orderin of me to have the house got reddy for him comin home. And he menshunned, permiskuously like, as you was not lookin that well as you orter. But Hannah and me, we thort as how is was all along o that botheration law business as you was upset on your helth. And as how you'd get better when the Court riz. But now the Court is riz, and pears like you aint no ways better from all accounts. And tell you how we knowed. See Hannah and me, we got a letter from Mrs. Whaley as keeps the 'Farmers.' Well she rote to Hannah and me to send her up some chickins and duks and eggs and butter and other fresh frutes and vegetubbles, which she sez as they doo ask sich onlawful prices for em in the city markits as she cant conshuenshusly giv it. So she wants Hannah and me to soopli her. And mabee we may and mabee we maynt; but that's nyther here nur there. Wot Hannah and me wants to say is this—as how Mrs. Whaley she met you in the street incerdentul. And she sez as how she newer saw no wun look no wusser than you do! Now, Ishmael, Hannah and me, we sees how it is. Youre a-killin of yourself jest as fast as ever you can, which is no better than Susanside, because it is agin natur and agin rillijun to kill wunself for a livin. So Hannah and me, we wants you to drap everythink rite outen your hands and kum home to us. Wot you want is a plenty of good kuntre air and water, and nun o your stifeld up streets and pizen pumps. And plenty o good kuntre eetin and drinkin and nun o your sickly messes. So you kum. Hannah and me is got a fine caff and fat lamm to kill soon as ever you git here. And lots o young chickins and duks. And the gratest kwontity o frute, peeehes, peers, plums, and kanterlopes and warter millions in plenty. And the hamberg grapes is kummin on. And we hav got a noo cow, wun o the sort cawld durrums, which she doo give the richest milk as ever you drinked and if ennything will set you up it is that. And likewise we hav got the noo fashund fowls as people are all runnin mad about. They cawl em shank hyes pun count o there long leggs, which they is about the longest as ever you saw. And the way them fowls doo stryde and doo eet is a cawshun to housekeepers. They gobble up everything. And wot doo you think. You know Sally's brestpin, as Jim bawt her for a kristmus gift. Well she happened to drap it offen her buzzum, inter the poultry yard, and soons ever she mist it she run rite out after it; but the shank-hye rooster he run fastern she did with his long legs and gobbled it rite down, afore his eyes. And the poor gals bin a howlin and bawlin and brakin of her poor hart ebout it ever since. She wanted us—Hannah and me to kill the shank-hye; to git the brestpin; but as we had onlee a pare on em we tolde her how it was too vallabel for that. But Hannah and me we give the shank hye a dose of eepeekak, in hope it would make him throw up the brestpin; but it dident; for the eepeekak set on his stomik like an angel, as likewise did the brestpin; and Hannah and me thinks he diggested em both. Well, they aint daintee in their wittels them shank hyes. Now bee shure to kum, Ishmael. Hannah and me and the young uns and Sally will awl be so glad to see you and you can role in clover awl day if you like. And now I have ralely no more noose to tell you; only that I rote this letter awl outen my own hed without Hannah helpin of me. Dont you think as Ime improvin? Hannah and the little uns and Sally jine me in luv to you mi deer Ishmael. And Ime your effectshunit frend till deth do us part. "Reuben Gray.
"Post Cript. Ive jist redd this letter to Hannah. And she doo say as every uther wurd is rote rong. I dont think they is; becawse Ive got a sartain roole to spell rite; which is—I think how a word sownde and then I spell it accordin. But law, Ishmael! ever sense Hannah has been teechin them young uns o ourn to reede there primmers, shes jest got to be the orfullest Bloo Stokkin as evver was. Dont tell her I sed so tho, for she ralely is wun of the finest wimmin livin and Ime prowd of her and her young uns. So no more at present onle kum. "R.G."
Grateful for this kind invitation as he had been for any that had been given him, Ishmael sat down immediately and answered the letter, saying to Reuben, as he had said to others, that he would thankfully accept his offered hospitality as soon as his duties would permit him to do so.
The last day of the family's sojourn in town came. On the morning of that day Mr. Brudenell took leave of his friends and departed, exacting from Ishmael a renewal of his promise to visit Brudenell Hall in the course of the summer. On that last day Ishmael completed the packing of the books and sent them off to the boat that was to convey them to the Tanglewood landing. And then he had all his own personal effects conveyed to his new lodgings. And finally he sought an interview with Bee. That was not so easily obtained, however. Bee was excessively busy on this last day. But Ishmael, with the privilege of an inmate, went through the house, looking for her, until he found her in the family storeroom, busy among the jars and cans, and attended by her maids.
"Come in, Ishmael, for this concerns you," she said pleasantly.
And Ishmael entered, wondering what he could be supposed to have to do with preserved fruits and potted meats.
Bee pointed to a box that was neatly packed with small jars, saying:
"There, Ishmael—there are some sealed fruits and vegetables, and some spiced meats and fish, and a bachelor's lamp and kettle, in that case which Ann is closing down. They are yours. Direct Jim where to find your lodgings, and he will take them there in the wheelbarrow. And there is a keg of crackers and biscuits to go with them."
"Dearest Bee, I am very grateful; but why should you give me all these things?" inquired Ishmael, in surprise.
"Because you are going away from home, and you will want them. Yes, you will, Ishmael, though you don't think so now. Often business will detain you out in the evening until after your boarding-house supper is over. Then how nice to have the means at hand to get a comfortable little meal for yourself in your own room without much trouble. Why, Ishmael, we always put up such a box as this for Walter when he leaves us. And do you think that mamma or I would make any difference between you?"
"You have always been a dear—yes, the dearest of sisters to me! and some day, Bee—" He stopped, and looked around. The maids were at some distance, but still he felt that the family storeroom was not exactly the place to say what was on his heart for her, so he whispered the question:
"How long will you be engaged here, dear Bee?"
"Until tea time. It will take me quite as long as that to get through what I have to do."
"And then, Bee?"
"Then I shall be at leisure to pass this last evening with you, Ishmael," answered Bee, meeting his wish with the frankness of pure affection.
"And will you walk with me in the garden after tea? It will be our last stroll together there," he said rather sadly.
"Yes; I will walk with you, Ishmael. The garden is lovely just at sunset."
"Thank you, dearest Bee. Ah! how many times a day I have occasion to speak these words!"
"I wish you would leave them off altogether, then, Ishmael. I always understand that you thank me far more than I deserve."
"Never! How could I? 'Thank you!' they are but two words. How could they repay you, Bee? Dearest, this evening you shall know how much I thank you. Until then, farewell." He pressed her hand and left her.
Now Ishmael was far too clear-sighted not to have seen that Bee had fixed her pure maidenly affections upon him, and to see also that Bee's choice was well approved by her parents, who had long loved him as a son. While Ishmael's hands had been busy with the book- packing his thoughts had been busy with Bee and with the problem that her love presented him. He had loved Claudia with an all- absorbing passion. But she had left him and married another, and so stricken a deathblow to his love. But this love was dying very hard, and in its death-struggles was rending and tearing the heart which was its death-bed.
And in the meantime Bee's love was alive and healthy, and it was fixed on him. He was not insensible, indifferent, ungrateful for this dear love. Indeed, it was the sweetest solace that he had in this world. He felt in the profoundest depths of his heart all the loveliness of Bee's nature. And most tenderly he loved her—as a younger sister. What then should he do? Offer to Bee the poor, bleeding heart that Claudia had played with, broken, and cast aside as worthless? All that was true, noble, and manly in Ishmael's nature responded:
But what then should he do? Leave her to believe him insensible, indifferent, ungrateful? Strike such a deathblow to her loving heart as Claudia had stricken to his? All that was generous, affectionate and devoted in Ishmael's nature cried out: "No! forbid it, angels in heaven!"
But what then could he do? The magnanimity of his nature answered:
"Open your heart to her; that she may know all that is in it; then lay that heart at her feet, for accepting or rejecting."
And this he resolved to do. And this resolution sent him to beg this interview with Bee. Yet before going to keep it he determined to speak to Mr. Middleton. He felt certain that Mr. Middleton would indorse his addresses to his daughter; yet still his fine sense of honor constrained him to seek the consent of the father before proposing to the daughter. And with this view in mind immediately upon leaving Bee he sought Mr. Middleton.
He found that gentleman walking about in the garden, enjoying his afternoon cigar. In these afternoon promenades Mr. Middleton, who was the shorter and slighter as well as the older man, often did Ishmael the honor of leaning upon his arm. And now Ishmael went up to his side and with a smile silently offered the usual support.
"Thank you, my boy! I was just feeling the want of your friendly arm. My limbs are apt to grow tired of walking before my eyes are satiated with gazing or my mind with reflecting on the beauty of the summer evening," said Mr. Middleton, slipping his arm within that of Ishmael.
"Sir," said the young man, blushing slightly, "a selfish motive has brought me to your side this afternoon."
"A selfish motive, Ishmael! I do not believe that you are capable of entertaining one," smiled Mr. Middleton.
"Indeed, yes, sir; you will say so when you hear of it."
"Let me hear of it, then, Ishmael, for the novelty of the thing."
The young man hesitated for a few moments and then said:
"Mr. Middleton—Mr. Brudenell has, I believe, put you in possession of the facts relative to my birth?"
"Yes, my dear Ishmael; but let me assure you that I did not need to be told of them. Do you remember the conversation we had upon the subject years ago? It was the morning after the school party when that miserable craven, Alfred Burghe, disgraced himself by insulting you. You said, Ishmael, 'My mother was a pure and honorable woman! Oh, believe it!' I did believe it then, Ishmael; for your words and tones and manner carried irresistible conviction to my mind. And every year since I have been confirmed in my belief. You, Ishmael, are the pledge of your parents' honor as well as of their love. 'Men do not gather grapes of thorns, nor figs of thistles,'" said Mr. Middleton earnestly.
"And yet, sir, I have suffered and may again suffer reproach that neither myself nor my parents deserved," said Ishmael gravely.
"You never will again, Ishmael. You have overcome the world."
"Thank you! thank you, sir! I purposely reminded you of this old injustice. You do not regard me the less for having suffered it?"
"The less! No, my boy; but the more, for having overcome it!"
"Again I thank you from the depths of my heart. You have known me from boyhood, Mr. Middleton; and you may be said to know my character and my prospects better than anyone else in the world does; better, even, than I know them myself."
"I think that quite likely to be true."
"Well, sir, I hope in a few years to gain an established reputation and a moderate competency by my practice at the bar."
"You will gain fame and wealth, Ishmael."
"Well, sir, if ever by the blessing of Heaven I do attain these distinctions, taking everything else into consideration, would you, sir, would you then—"
"What, Ishmael? Speak out, my boy?"
"Accept me as a son?"
"Do you want me to give you Bee?" gravely inquired Mr. Middleton.
"When I shall be more worthy of her, I do."
"Have you Bee's consent to speak to me on this subject?"
"No, sir; I have not yet addressed Miss Middleton. I could not venture to do so without your sanction. It is to obtain it that I have come to you this evening. I would like very much to have an understanding with Miss Middleton before we part for an indefinite time."
Mr. Middleton fell into deep thought. It was some minutes before he spoke. When he did, it was to say:
"Ishmael, Bee is my eldest daughter and favorite child."
"I know it, sir," answered the young man.
"Parents ought not to have favorites among their children; but how can I help it? Bee is almost an angel."
"I know it, sir," said Ishmael.
"Oh, yes; you know it! you know it!" exclaimed Mr. Middleton, half laughing and not far from crying; "but do you know what you do when you ask a father to give up his best beloved daughter?"
"Indeed I think I do, sir; but—daughters must some time or other become wives," said Ishmael, with a deprecating smile.
"Yes, it is true!" sighed Mr. Middleton. "Well, Ishmael, since in the course of nature I must some day give my dear daughter up, I would rather give her to you than to any man on earth, for I have a great esteem and affection for you, Ishmael."
"Indeed, sir, it is mutual!" replied the young man, grasping the hand of his friend.
"It is just the state of feeling that should exist between father- and son-in-law," said Mr. Middleton.
"I have your sanction, then, to speak to Bee?"
"Yes, Ishmael, yes; I will give her to you! But not yet, my dear boy; for several reasons not just yet! You are both very young yet; you are but little over twenty-one; she scarcely nineteen; and besides her mother still needs her assistance in taking care of the children; and I—must get used to the idea of parting with her; so you must wait a year or two longer, Ishmael! She is well worth waiting for."
"I know it! Oh, I know it well, sir! I have seen women as beautiful, as amiable, and as accomplished; but I never, no, never met with one so 'altogether lovely' as Bee! And I thank you, sir! Oh, I thank you more than tongue can tell for the boon you have granted me. You will not lose your daughter, sir; but you will gain a son; and I will be a true son to you. sir, as Heaven hears me! And to her I will be a true lover and husband. Her happiness shall be the very first object in my life, sir; nothing in this world over which I have the slightest control shall be suffered to come into competition with it."
"I am—I am sure of that, my boy!" replied Mr. Middleton, in a broken voice.
"And I do not presume to wish to hurry either you or her, sir; I am willing to wait your leisure and hers; all I want now is to have an understanding with Bee, and to be admitted to the privileges of an accepted lover. You could trust me so far, sir?"
"Trust you so far! Why, Ishmael, there is no limit to my trust in you!"
"And Mrs. Middleton, sir?"
"Why, Ishmael, she loves you as one of her own children; and I do think you would disappoint and grieve her if you were to marry out of the family. I will break the matter to Mrs. Middleton. Go find Bee, and speak to her of this matter, and when you have won her consent, bring her to me that I may join your hands and bless your betrothal."
Ishmael fervently pressed the hand of his kind friend and left him.
Of course Bee, who was still busy with her maids in the store-room, was not to be spoken to on that subject at that hour. But Ishmael went up to his own room to reflect.
Perhaps the whole key to Ishmael's conduct in this affair might have been found in the words he used when pleading with his father the cause of the Countess of Hurstmonceux; he said:
"It seems to me, if any young lady had loved me so, I must have loved her fondly in return; I could not have helped doing so."
And he could not. There was something too warm, generous, and noble in Nora's son to be so insensible as all that.
His inspiration also instructed him that not the beautiful and imperious Claudia, but the lovely and loving Bee was his Heaven- appointed wife.
He was inspired when in his agony that dreadful night he had cried out: "By a woman came sin and death into the world, and by a woman came redemption and salvation! Oh! Claudia, my Eve, farewell! And Bee, my Mary, hail!"
And now that he was about to betroth himself to Bee, and make her happy, he himself felt happier than he had been for many days. He felt sure, too, that when his heart should recover from its wounds he should love Bee with a deeper, higher, purer, and more lasting affection than ever his fierce passion for Claudia could have become.
The maiden loved the young man well, And pined for many a day, Because that star-eyed, queenly belle Had won his heart away. But now the young man chooses well Between the beauteous pair, The proud and brilliant dark-haired belle, And gentle maiden fair. —M. F. Tupper
After tea Ishmael, having missed Bee from the drawing room, went out into the garden, expecting to find her there. Not seeing her, he walked up and down the gravel walk, waiting for her appearance.
Presently she came up, softly and silently, and joined him.
"Thanks, dearest Bee," he said, as he drew her arm within his own.
"It is a beautiful evening, Ishmael; I have never seen the garden look more lovely," said Bee.
And it was indeed a beautiful evening and a lovely scene. The sun had just set; but all the western horizon and the waters of the distant river were aflame with crimson fire of his reflected rays; while over the eastern hills the moon and stars were shining from the dark gray heavens. In the garden, the shrubs and flowers, not yet damp with dew, were sending forth their richest fragrance; the latest birds were twittering softly before settling themselves to sleep in their leafy nests; and the earliest insects were tuning up their tiny, gleeful pipes before commencing their evening concert.
"This garden is a very pleasant place, quite as pleasant as Tanglewood, if uncle would only think so," said Bee.
"Yes, it is very pleasant. You do not like the plan of returning to the country, Bee?" said Ishmael.
"No, indeed, I do not; breaking up and parting is always a painful process." And Bee's lips quivered and the tears came into her eyes.
Ishmael pressed the little hand that lay light as a snowflake on his arm, drew it closer within his embrace, and turned down the narrow path that led to the remote arbor situated far down in the angle of the wall in the bottom of the garden.
He led her to a seat, placed himself beside her, took her hand, and said:
"It is here, dearest Bee—here in the scene of my humiliation and of my redemption—that I would say to you all I have to say; that I would lay my heart open before you, and place it at your feet, for spurning, or for blessing."
She looked up at him with surprise, but also with infinite affection in her innocent and beautiful eyes. Then, as she read the truth in his earnest gaze, her eyes fell, and her color rose.
"And dearest Bee, I have your father's sanction for what I do, for without it I would not act."
Her eyes were still fixed upon the ground, but her hand that he clasped in his throbbed like a heart. And oh! he felt how entirely she loved him; and he felt that he could devote his whole life to her.
"Dearest of all dear ones, Bee, listen to me. Not many days have passed, since, one evening, you came to this arbor, seeking one that was lost and found—me!"
She began to tremble.
"You know how you found me, Bee," he said sadly and solemnly.
"Oh, Ishmael, dear!" she cried, with an accent of sharp pain, "do not speak of that evening! forget it and let me forget it! it is past!"
"Dearest girl, only this once will I pain you by alluding to that sorrowful and degrading hour. You found me—I will not shrink from uttering the word, though it will scorch my lips to speak it and burn your ears to hear it—you found me—intoxicated."
"Oh, Ishmael, dear, you were not to blame! it was not your fault! it was an accident—a misfortune!" she exclaimed, as blushes burned upon her cheeks and tears suffused her eyes.
"How much I blamed, how much I loathed myself, dearest Bee, you can never know! Let that pass. You found me as I said. Actually and bodily I was lying on this bench, sleeping the stupid sleep of intoxication; but morally and spiritually I was slipping over the brink of an awful chasm. Bee, dearest Bee! dearest saving angel! it was this little hand of yours that drew me back, so softly that I scarcely knew I had been in danger of ruin until that danger was past. And, Bee, since that day many days of storm have passed, but the face of my saving angel has ever looked out from among the darkest clouds a bright rainbow of promise. I did not perish in the storm, because her sweet face ever looked down upon me!"
Bee did not attempt to reply; she could not; she sat with her flushed and tearful eyes bent upon the ground.
"Love, do you know this token?" he inquired, in a voice shaking with agitation, as he drew from his bosom a little wisp of white cambric and laid it in her lap.
"It is my—my—" she essayed to answer, but her voice failed.
"It is your dear handkerchief," he said, as he took it, pressed it to his lips, and replaced it in his bosom. "It is your dear handkerchief! When you found me as you did, in your loving kindness you laid it over my face—mine! so utterly unworthy to be so delicately veiled! Oh, Bee, if I could express to you all I felt! all I thought! when I recognized this dear token and so discovered who it was that had sought me when I was lost, and dropped tears of sorrow over me! and then covered my face from the blistering sun and the stinging flies—if I could tell you all that I suffered and resolved, then you would feel and know how earnest and sincere is the heart that at last—at last, my darling, I lay at your beloved feet."
She looked up at him for a moment and breathed a single word—a name that seemed to escape her lips quite involuntarily—"Claudia!"
"Yes, my darling," he said, in tones vibrating with emotion, "it is as you suppose, or rather it was so! You have divined my secret, which indeed I never intended to keep as a secret from you. Yes, Bee; I loved another before loving you. I loved her whom you have just named. I love her no longer. When by her marriage with another my love would have become sinful, it was sentenced to death and executed. But, Bee, it died hard, very hard; and in its violent death-throes it rent and tore my heart, as the evil spirit did the possessed man, when it was driven out of him. Bee, my darling," said Ishmael, smiling for the first time since commencing the interview, "this may seem to you a very fanciful way of putting the case; but is a good one, for in no other manner could I give you to understand how terrible my sufferings have been for the last few weeks, how completely my evil passion has perished; and yet how sore and weak it has left my heart. Bee, it is this heart, wounded and bleeding from a dead love, yet true and single in its affection for you, that I open before you and lay at your feet. Spurn it away from you, Bee, and I cannot blame you. Raise it to your own and I shall love and bless you."
Bee burst into tears.
He put his arm around her and drew her to his side and she dropped her head upon his shoulder and wept passionately. Many times she tried to speak, but failed. At last, when she had exhausted all her passion, she raised her head from its resting-place. He wiped the tears from her eyes and stooping, whispered:
"You will not reject me, Bee, because I loved another woman once?"
"No," she answered softly, "for if you loved another woman before me, you could not help it, Ishmael. It is not that I am concerned about."
"What then, dearest love? Speak out," he whispered.
"Oh, Ishmael, tell me truly one thing;" and she hid her face on his shoulder while she breathed the question: "Isn't it only for my sake, to please me and make me happy, that you offer me your love, Ishmael?" She spoke so low, with her face so muffled on his shoulder, that he scarcely understood her; so he bent his head and inquired:
"What is it that you say, dear Bee?"
She tried to speak more clearly, for it seemed with her a point of principle to put this question; but her voice was, if possible, lower and more agitated than before, so that he had to stoop closely and listen intently to catch her words as she answered:
"Do you not offer me your love, only because—because you have found out—found out somehow or other that I—that I loved you first?"
He clasped her suddenly close to his heart, and whispered eagerly:
"I offer you my love because I love you, best and dearest of all dear ones!" And he felt at that moment that he did love her entirely.
She was sobbing softly on his shoulder; but presently through her tears she said:
"And will my love do you any good, make you any happier, compensate you a little for all that you have missed in losing that brilliant one?"
He held her closely to his heart while he stooped and answered:
"Dearest, your love has always been the greatest earthly blessing Heaven ever bestowed upon my life! I thank Heaven that the blindness and madness of my heart is past and gone, and I am enabled to see and understand this! Your love, Bee, is the only earthly thing that can comfort all the sorrows that may come into my life, or crown all its joys. You will believe this, dearest Bee, when you remember that I never in my life varied from the truth to anyone, and least of all would I prevaricate with you. I love you. Bee, let those three words answer all your doubts!"
Brightly and beautifully she smiled up at him through her tears.
"All is well, then, Ishmael! For all that I desire in this world is the privilege of making you happy!"
"Then you are my own!" he said, stooping and kissing the sparkling tears that hung like dew-drops on the red roses of her cheeks; and holding her to his heart, in profound religious joy and gratitude, he bowed his head and said:
"Oh, Father in Heaven! how I thank thee for this dear girl! Oh, make me every day more worthy of her love, and of thy many blessings!"
And soon after this Ishmael, happier than he ever thought it possible to be in this world, led forth from the arbor his betrothed bride.
He led her at once to the house and to the presence of her parents, whom he found in their private sitting room.
Standing before them and holding her hand, he said:
"She has promised to be my wife, and we are here for your blessing."
"You have it, my children! You have it with all my heart! May the Lord in heaven bless with his choicest blessings Ishmael and Beatrice!" said Mr. Middleton earnestly.
"Amen," said Mrs. Middleton.
Later in the evening Judge Merlin was informed of the engagement. And after congratulating the betrothed pair he turned to Mr. and Mrs. Middleton and said:
"Heaven knows how I envy you your son-in-law."
The gratified parents smiled, for they were proud of Ishmael, and what he would become. But Walter Middleton grinned and said:
"Heaven may know that, Uncle Merlin; but I know one thing!"
"What is that, Jackanapes?"
"I know they may thank Bee for their son-in-law, for she did all the courting!"
The panic-stricken party remained silent for a moment, and then Judge Merlin said:
"Well, sir! I know another thing!"
"And what is that, uncle?"
"That it will be a long time before you find a young lady to do you such an honor!"
Everybody laughed, not at the brilliancy of the joke, for the joke was not brilliant, but because they were happy; and when people are happy they do honor to very indifferent jests.
But Bee turned a ludicrously appalled look upon her lover and whispered:
"Oh, Ishmael! suppose he had known about that little bit of white cambric. He would have said that I had 'thrown the handkerchief' to you! And so I did! it is a dreadful reflection!"
"That handkerchief was a plank thrown to the drowning, Bee. It saved me from being whelmed in the waves of ruin. Oh, dearest, under heaven, you were my salvation!" said Ishmael, with emotion.
"Your comfort, Ishmael—only your comfort. Your own right- mindedness, 'under heaven,' would have saved you."
This was the last and the happiest evening they all spent at the city home together. Early in the morning they separated.
Judge Merlin and his servants started for Tanglewood, and Mr. and Mrs. Middleton and their family for The Beacon, where Ishmael promised as soon as possible to join them. Walter Middleton left for Saratoga. And, last of all, Ishmael locked up the empty house, took charge of the key, and departed to take possession of his new lodgings—alone, but blessed and happy.
Who can describe the sweets of country life But those blest men that do enjoy and taste them? Plain husbandmen, though far below our pitch Of fortune placed, enjoy a wealth above us: They breathe a fresh and uncorrupted air, And in sweet homes enjoy untroubled sleep. Their state is fearless and secure, enriched With several blessings such as greatest kings Might in true justice envy, and themselves Would count too happy if they truly knew them. —May.
Ishmael was settled in his new apartments on the first floor of a comfortable house on Louisiana Avenue. The front room opening upon the street, and having his name and profession engraved upon a silver plate attached to the door, was his public office; the middle room was his private office; and the back room, which opened upon a pleasant porch leading into the garden, was his bed-chamber.
The house was kept by two sisters, maiden ladies of venerable age, who took no other boarders or lodgers.
So, upon the whole, Ishmael's quarters were very comfortable.
The rapid increase of his business justified him in taking a clerk; and then in a week or two, as he saw this clerk over-tasked, he took a second; both young men who had not been very successful barristers, but who were very good office lawyers.
And Ishmael's affairs went on "swimmingly."
Of course there were hours when he sadly missed the companionship of the congenial family circle with whom he had been so long connected; but Ishmael was not one to murmur over the ordinary troubles of life. He rather made the best of his position and steadily looked on the bright side.
Besides, he maintained a regular correspondence with his friends. That correspondence was the only recreation and solace he allowed himself.
Almost every day he wrote to Bee, and he received answers to every one of his letters—answers full of affection, encouragement, and cheerfulness.
And at least once a week he got letters from Judge Merlin, Mr. Middleton, and Mr. Brudenell, all of whom continued to urge him to pay them visits as soon as his business would permit. Only one more letter he got from Reuben Gray; for letter writing was to poor Reuben a most difficult and dreaded task; and this one was merely to say that they should expect Ishmael down soon.
From Judge Merlin's letters it appeared that Lord and Lady Vincent had extended their tour into Canada East, and were now in the neighborhood of the "Thousand Isles," but that they expected to visit the judge at Tanglewood some time during the autumn; after which they intended to sail for Europe.
Ishmael continued to push his business for six or seven weeks, so that it was near the first of September before he found leisure to take a holiday and pay his promised visits.
Two weeks was the utmost length of time he could allow himself. And there were four places that seemed to have equal claims upon his society. Where should he go first? Truly Ishmael was embarrassed with the riches of his friendships.
At Woodside were Hannah and Reuben, who had cared for him in his orphaned infancy, and who really seemed to have the first right to him.
And at Tanglewood Judge Merlin was alone, moping for the want of his lost daughter and needing the consolation of a visit from Ishmael.
At the Beacon was his betrothed bride, who was also anxious to see him.
And finally, at Brudenell Hall was Herman Brudenell; and Herman Brudenell was—his father!
After a little reflection Ishmael's right-mindedness decided in favor of Woodside. Hannah had stood in his mother's place towards him, and to Hannah he would go first.
So, to get there by the shortest route, Ishmael took passage in the little steamer "Errand Boy," that left Georgetown every week for the mouth of the river, stopping at all the intervening landing-places.
Ishmael started on Friday morning and on Saturday afternoon was set ashore at Shelton, whence a pleasant walk of three miles through the forest that bordered the river brought him to Woodside.
Clean and cheerful was the cottage, gleaming whitely forth here and there from its shadowy green foliage and clustering red roses. The cottage and the fence had been repainted, and the gravel walk that led from the wicket-gate to the front door had been trimmed and rolled. And very dainty looked the white, fringed curtains and the green paper blinds at the front windows.
Evidently everything had been brightened up and put into holiday attire to welcome Ishmael.
While his hand was on the latch of the gate he was perceived from within, and the front door flew open and all the family rushed out to receive him—Reuben and Hannah, and the two children and Sally and the dog—the latter was as noisy and sincere in his welcome as any of the human friends, barking round and round the group to express his sympathy and joy and congratulations.
"I telled Hannah how you'd come to us fust; I did! Didn't I, Hannah, my dear?" said Reuben triumphantly, as he shook both Ishmael's hands with an energy worthy of a blacksmith.
"Well, I knew he would too! It didn't need a prophet nor one to rise from the dead to tell us that Ishmael would be true to his old friends," said Hannah, pushing Reuben away and embracing Ishmael with a—
"How do you do, my boy? You look better than I expected to see you after your hard year's work."
"Oh, I am all right, thank you, Aunt Hannah. Coming to see you has set me up!" laughed Ishmael, cordially returning her embrace.
"You, Sally! what are you doing there? grinning like a monkey? Go directly and make the kettle boil, and set the table. And tell that Jim, that's always loafing around you, to make himself useful as well as ornamental, and open them oysters that were brought from Cove Banks to-day. Why don't you go? what are you waiting for?"
"Please 'm, I hav'n't shook hands long o' Marse Ishmael yet," said Sally, showing all her fine ivories.
Ishmael stepped forward and held out his hand, saying, as he kindly shook the girl's fat paw:
"How do you do, Sally? You grow better looking every day! And I have got a pretty coral breastpin in my trunk for you, to make up for that one the shanghai swallowed."